Tag Archives: New York

Hard Times Are Divine Interference

Views from the 17th Floor

“Crenshaw is a completely different world from Union Square,” I thought to myself. The laid-back Los Angeles groove of Terrace Martin’s “Valdez Off Crenshaw” in my ear buds was a stark contrast to my view of Lower Manhattan’s skyline.

It was my first day on the job in a brand new office. Shortly after I was let go from my day job, I received a call about an analyst position at my former employer’s corporate headquarters. I charmed my way through the interview and received a start date days later.

As I was walked around and introduced to the team, several of my new colleagues shook my hand and told me “We have heard great things about you” and “If they hired you, they think highly of you.” The pleasantries made me feel welcomed and validated.

Things have changed drastically within the past month. The job out of the company’s Queens office was okay at best. I took the job because it was a paycheck. Before the position came to fruition, I prayed to God telling Him I couldn’t “live this way anymore.” Some semblance of understanding in my personal life was happening, as well.

I believe in treating the small wins like huge victories. As soon as comfort crept in, everything was shaken up. I should have known this was about to occur. 

There are no accomplishments without adversity. There are times in which God tells us all “Sit yo ass down! Oh, you’re not going to? Then I will make you.” It sucks; but it is needed.

That’s where faith comes into play. To be transparent, I am quite the control freak. Not because I want to force things; I am very confident in my capabilities. I truly believe that unless God intervenes, there are very few things I can’t acquire. If I want something, I’m going to make it happen. 

Because of this mindset, I have an interesting dynamic with God. When I put my mind to something, He replies with “Ayo, you feel that way? I’m gonna test you and you will fail several times. Then you will have to chill, rethink some things, and try again, dead ass. I believe in you Chad and you’re my guy, so let’s see what you’re made of, b.” (Note: To me, God is a New Yorker)

My faith isn’t always the greatest. Maybe a better way to word that is that I have a lot of faith; but I don’t pray as much as I should. I mostly do about the things that I am thankful for as opposed to asking God for something. When I pray about something once, I let it go. In my eyes, to continuously go back feels like a lack of faith. 

I prayed to God to open up my heart and eyes and He been testing me in that area.As soon as hopelessness arts in, things begin to shift. 

Our moments of adversity are periods of preparation. We have free will to do whatever; so what we do with the down time is up to us. I detest arrested development (Not the group. I actually have a very funny story about my encounters with a former member). We all have traumatic events that stunt our growth; I try to eliminate much as that as humanly possible.

After my initial prayer three months ago, God put me in a position that took care of my immediate needs and gave me a glimpse into my future. Before I got into a routine, the door was abruptly shut. 

The way the job ended put me in a position to lean on someone I was hesitant to, due to our past. Opening up about my frustration set forth a chain of events that created a path to understanding. That feeling of frustration lead to thoughts I wouldn’t have had being in Queens.

While I was distracted with the daunting task of figuring out how to emotionally process shit, God worked under the radar. All of the thoughts and feelings I was under masked what was really going down. The position in Queens put me back into the company’s system with an email and ID number. While I was getting back into the swing of commuting to Queens, I had been saying “I want to work in the city again.” Sometimes the discomfort is just divine interference.

I couldn’t wait to get home and show Cydney a picture of my view of Manhattan from the 17th floor.

A Tribe Called Quest’s New Album Rollout Brings The Feels

A picture of A Tribe Called Quest at the Kanye show I was too late to see them at.

A Tribe Called Quest is releasing their final album, We Got It from Here, Thank You for Your Service, next week. While I am more than certain that the project is one of love, life and celebration, the title itself makes me feel a way.

I read the New York Times article, Loss Haunts A Tribe Called Quest’s First Album in 18 Years yesterday. It was a heavy, yet beautiful. I had this unidentifiable feeling looking at pictures of Jarobi with a graying beard and Q-Tip-who seemed to never age-beginning to look like a man in his mid-forties. The world and myself have been waiting for “A-E-I-O-U…and sometimes Y” to get it together and lace us with new music; but not like this; but I understand.

A Tribe Called Quest means a lot to me. I’m from Queens. I’m from St. Albans. “Back in the days on the Boulevard of Linden” is not some classic rap lyric to me; it’s my reality. I drive past the block that on November 19 will be renamed “Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way” all of the time. My grandfather’s wake was held at the funeral home right across the street from the Nu-Clear Cleaners Tribe stood on and filmed the music video for “Check the Rhyme.” 

The Midnight Marauders’ music was the soundtrack to the hardest period of my life. The October 2011 release of Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest prompted me to listen to their whole catalog repeatedly. Timile, Cydney, and I were in the process of relocating from Buffalo to Virginia. Cyd left with her grandparents October 14, I drove Timile down the weekend of the 20th, and I worked in Buffalo for an extra week, completing the move October 31st. 

Virginia was a very tough time because I was by myself. I spent all day applying for jobs at a Starbucks, visited Timile in the hospital during the evenings (only for a half hour at a time because her parents told me I had to sneak around and hide), and spend time with my daughter at the in-laws with vigilant eyes watching me as if Cydney wasn’t my child. 

Q-Tip and Phife’s words, Ali Shaheed’s soundscape, and Jarobi’s spirit were the only friends I had in Virginia during those three weeks. Living in a place that was nothing like my stomping grounds, the music was all I had to cure my homesickness. I needed their playful lyrics to express what was a complicated time and abstract thoughts. My mother was just starting her first round of chemotherapy, so even there I was feeling depleted because I had spent all of my time being there for others. I had my big brother, Barry, and my good friend Donnell that I could call and vent to. To this day, I can barely listen to the album Beats, Rhymes, and Life in its entirety…its darkness and frustration with changing times give me Vietnam Flashbacks to those evenings.

However, I can listen to “God Lives Through” from Midnight Marauders all day and not get tired of it. It was the perfect ending to a perfect album. That was the victory lap of a time that can never be replicated. So when it plays, you just vibe out and remember the struggle and hard times with a melancholy smile. It’s the welcomed kind of moodiness, if that makes sense. If one asks me how I feel about living in Virginia five years ago, it’s a pleasant sadness I think of very fondly. Timile Brown may have still been alive; but that was the beginning of the Single Dadventures.

*Does litmus test to see if I can write with Beats, Rhymes, and Life playing. Turns Midnight Marauders back on…Beats was too distracting.*

Reading the Times article yesterday afternoon was interesting. Jarobi lamented on how traveling and recording this last album was taking a toll on Phife, who had been living with diabetes since 1990 and succumbed to the disease March 22, 2016. The click bait articles are trolling by using headlines like “The Final Tribe Album Killed Phife” or some shit that I’m exaggerating to get my point across. Some people are just not going to understand; but I do.

The phrase “Now I can die in peace” is often a joke; but the sentiment is a real thing. I truly believe that Malik Taylor knew his time on earth was coming to an end. The only thing he had left to do was make right with his friend since four years old, Q-Tip, and lay down some Tribe music. I have witnessed people “transition,” in which they stick around on earth until a few more things are in order and then let go. They see the world very differently. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is why Q-Tip said that he had a very hard time listening to Phife’s vocals on this new album. Other than him no longer being with us, there is probably something very different about the timbre of his voice. Those who are transitioning sound different. 

The heavy feeling that is sitting with me in lieu of this final Tribe album is one of completion. I have been trying to see them live ever since. I missed them a few times in New York (I was late to when they opened up for Kanye West at the Barclay’s Arena in 2013); but things happen the way they are supposed to. 

I think I was unconsciously searching for a closing to an emotional void. For the past five years, there has been a lack of vulnerability on my end. I am used to my emotional processing being an internal process that even in times of wanting to shed tears I literally can’t. It’s time for things to be different. So I guess with the last album dropping November 11, 2016, I can say to friends that helped me through a very tough time-Timile, Donnell, A Tribe Called Quest-I got it from here, thank you for your service.

The Summer’s Over

 

 

“The summer’s over and and we’re watching the sun finally set.  It seems like forever; but forever’s here.”

While I had heard the song several times prior, I never really listened to PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “East Liberty” until that mid-September afternoon. The song summed up the evening perfectly. I was driving on the Hutchinson Parkway in the Bronx, making the trip home to Long Island from Yonkers. I ignored all text messages from my phone.

This was the first of many fall excursions that were dubbed “Sunday Fundays.” The dating dynamic between a girl whose nickname was Fly Light Skin and I had been over; but we enjoyed each other’s company enough to do brunch at the Royal Coach Diner on the corner of Gun Hill and Boston Road. After I dropped her off, I would head to Westchester County to watch football with my long-time friend, Kalique, while our daughters played.

I flat ironed my daughter’s hair the night before and this was an internal invitation for her to be a girly-girl that day. Fly Light Skin was one as well and I think Cydney liked the idea of having an adult woman to do that kind of stuff with. I took the two of them to get their nails done and we all went to our dining spot after.

FLS gave my child a hand mirror and that little girl was obsessed with it. She looked at her reflection and brushed her hair all afternoon. I captured the moment and posted it on Instagram; not paying attention to the purse in the right corner of the shot.My phone vibrated with social media notifications for the rest of the evening.

While leaving the Bronx, I observed a certain person liked the picture on Facebook. I chuckled to myself for a moment because I knew the person all too-well. She almost never comments on my pictures; but she did on this one. Nothing was ever coincidence with her; so I paid very close attention to this break in her typical behavioral pattern.

The cross-country trip across the lower New York peninsula is about a 25 minute drive. By the time I exited off the expressway onto Yonkers Ave, I received a text message from my Facebook friend I had a checkered history with, to say the least.Even in this brief moment of being direct, she was communicating passively. I smirked and left the message unread.

While watching the Giants game, I told Kalique about the day. Every Sunday began with a synopsis about the never-ceasing drama that is my life outside of parenting. My longtime friend inferred that while there seems to be an ever-present amount of discord around me, I am always calm and in control. The way he said it was a lot more profanity-laden; but that’s what he meant. I think a direct quote was “Chad, you are the muthafuckin’ puppet master.”

I had to laugh at my consigliere because it’s very true. This evening was the moment that I realized it. I believed it before; but this was the day that I was truly convinced. I let all parties I interact with that day feel as if they were making the decisions. If and when they felt like they no longer wanted to deal with me, I created an environment that made them feel as if they were calling the shots. “They’ll be back” I would think to myself.

I operate in this manner because it’s easier. You can tell people what they want to hear or directly make a decision for them. However, they will not listen until they come to the conclusion themselves…I’ll just facilitate the process.

As we continued to shoot the shit, FLS sent me two or three text messages. I wanted to enjoy the game in peace with two of my boys I have known since middle school in peace.  I needed a little peace from everyone. Texts often lead the interpreter to jump to conclusions, especially when there is a non-platonic dynamic between men and women. My Samsung was on silent like I ain’t need the stress (For all of my PARTYNEXTDOOR fans).

It seemed like my Facebook friend always came around when things were ending with someone. Her reemergence always signified the beginning of the end. On an unconscious level, I probably let it happen. I always let her back in. Even if or when people knew of her, she always flew under everyone’s radar.

That was last fall. This summer, the same thing happened. The cast of characters have changed and the situations even more interesting; with the exception of one person. The summer is over…

There was supposed to be some kind of existential tale to take away from this. I guess that went out the window for me to just tell another story.

 

Afro-Puerto Rican Superheroine To Be Unleashed At National Parade In June

 

“I’m not the activist that I was in my twenties; but I’m an artist, now.  And one of the things that I have always realized is that about the arts is that art serves to inspire our spirits,” Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez says was the inspiration in creating superhero, La Borinqueña.

US Territory, Puerto Rico is on the cusp of an economic crisis and could use a hero.  Officially licensed and endorsed by the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, the proceeds from the comic book wil raise money for their scholarship fund.

Marvel begins the roll-out for their latest project by contextualizing their newest heroine among other celebrated icons.  The cover of the first comic book-that will make its debut during the parade on June 12th-depicts La Borinqueña flying through New York above and being cheered on by singer Hector Lavoe, Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotamayor, a freed Oscar Lopez-Rivera, and others.

La Borinqueña-whose name is derived from its national anthem-is truly a representative of her culture.  Born in Brooklyn, Marisol Ríos de la Luz grew up in a household in which her father is Afro Puerto Rican and mother of white Puerto Rican decent, that discovers she has super powers when she visits the island.  Equipped with the ability to fly, superhuman strength, and the ability to teleport wherever a Puerto Rican needs her, La Borinqueña will fight villains (I personally would find it hilarious if one was Dominican…that’s a New York joke), address the financial crisis plaguing the Commonwealth, and instill unity among the Diaspora.

Personally, I find this to be incredibly dope.  As the father to a little girl of color, I love seeing different aspects of childhood entertainment that they have often been excluded from be able to identify with.  In 2016, there is a superheroine who my daughter can look and say “She looks just like me!”

Growing up, Timile, my daughter’s mother, had a very difficult time with her own identity.  Born to parents and having siblings with dark skin and coarse hair, she told me that she would look at her family on the couch together and never felt as if she fit in.  She was light-skinned with “bone straight hair.”  Growing up as a military brat, Timile would tell me tales in different parts of the world where children would make fun of her, calling her names such as “Hopi Indian,” and tell her that she was adopted.  Because of this, she spent most of her elementary school years finding pleasure in watching all of the other kids play as if it were television…her and her imaginary horse.

The issue plagued her into adolescence and young adulthood as many people perceived her to be stuck-up because of how she looked.  I always felt bad for the little girl I pictured as she’d tell me this and would think to myself “I would’ve been your friend.”  Truth be told, the reason we began dating was that she had always relegated herself to the background and watching everyone else have fun from afar.  I always tried to include her.

Once we found out that Timile’s biological father was a Puerto Rican man from Rochester, I said to myself that our daughter will never feel the way her mother once did.  Children are cruel.  There will be a day in which someone says something about the color of my daughter’s skin and exclude her for not looking black enough.  Someone will tease her about the texture of her hair.  One day, some one will say something rude about her mother a) not knowing Cydney’s isn’t alive or b) know she is dead and will say something mean about it.

There’s only but so much “You look just like your mom” is gonna do for my daughter.  It’s a wonderful sentiment and something she can hold onto; but there’s no “why” for her to identify with.  It’s difficult to associate with a memory that’s based on others’ perception and no recollection of our own.  My daughter slightly resembles her father and can see that; but she favors her mother with features I don’t possess.  So before that weekend in June, she’ll see me don a hat with the flag on it so that if I put it on her, she can understand that her father is instilling some sense of pride and celebration in who and what she looks like.

There’s a light brown superheroine with fine, yet long, curly hair who from New York that flies around to help others.  To me, that is the shit.  When it’s time to be a superhero at recess among her friends, she doesn’t have to be Lady Thor, She Hulk, or even Supergirl…she can be herself.

 

Reunited and it Feels so…

I received a phone call a little over a week ago. It was Mashia, Timile’s first cousin who lives in Buffalo. She was reaching out to let me know that she was taking the train from East Canada (that’s what I call Buffalo) to New York for her daughter, Morgan’s ninth birthday.

Cydney and I haven’t returned to Buffalo in a little over three years. The last time we saw anyone from Timile’s family-with the exception of her parents-was at as wedding in Maryland in the summer of 2013. It has been on the to-do list; there has just been more than a lot going on, so making the trip never happened.

I genuinely love the family in Buffalo. As much as possible, they made a very rough time in my new family’s life just a little easier. Sure, there were a few hiccups and an altercation or two; but shit happens. They have always treated me as if I am blood and not just Timile’s boyfriend or Cydney’s father. I can’t say the same for Timile’s parents. If my “in-laws” were to ask me why do I keep in contact with-or visit the family up north-that would be the reason why.

Last Friday, Cyd overhears a conversation in which I state that I am taking her with me to Manhattan. She associates our trips to the city with seeing someone else, so she was beyond excited when she got wind of this. The whole day, she would jump around saying that we’re going to the city to see a certain person…hell, she said it the whole way there. No matter how many times I said “No, we’re going to the city to see your cousins from your mom’s side of the family,” she had her mind made up that we were doing something else.

We met up with Mashia, Morgan, their older cousin Kim, and Kim’s daughter, Ari. Mashia and Timile were first cousins at the Sheraton Inn on 51st St and 7th Ave. Their grandmother and Kim’s mother are sisters. They’re a big family, yet very close-knit. It was refreshing to see them. They were familiar faces I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Cydney didn’t remember them; but everyone remembered Cydney. We briefly caught up on life and such before heading to dinner.

At one point, Kim paused and asked me “Do you have a girlfriend?” I found that to be a very interesting question because while I am well aware that life goes on and I’m expected to do so, it feels a little weird talking to Timile’s family about another woman. Well, that’s part of it. The reason why that question was struck a chord with me was because the last time I saw her at the wedding, she was one of the people encouraging me to get up and attempt to catch the garter, signifying that I could be the next one to get married.

While eating, Kim, Mashia, and I shot the shit while the three girls played. We talked about how the family was doing, Timile’s mother, and without realizing it, we were there for nearly three hours. It didn’t feel like it.

I really enjoyed watching Cydney interact with her cousins. For starters, I remember when all three were born, because I’ve been around for almost a decade. I saw all of them as little kids-babies at that-when we lived in Buffalo, so seeing everyone growing up is endearing. Also, it is very often that I get to see Cyd be a girl with other little girls. That always makes me smile.

Morgan and Cydney both look like their mothers, so I know as much as I was taken aback, so were Mashia and Kim. I could see Mashia looking at the two of them and think to herself “I remember when…” Cydney and I aren’t the only ones who lost someone they loved in December of 2011. Since I don’t see the others who were directly affected so often, times like this are a reminder.

On the forty minute drive home, I kept thinking about our visit. Seeing Timile’s family is something else that feels familiar, yet unfamiliar at the same time. I know the faces, voices, and even the personalities involved. But how I know them seems like such a long time ago. I remember being in all of these places and life being an incredibly dark place. None of that is who I am, now. It’s bittersweet.

I was happy to see everyone. I don’t want to make any promises; but I almost promise that Cydney and I will return to Buffalo sometime this summer.

Cydney’s Fifth Birthday

 

Cydney Milner turned five on Sunday.  By Monday morning, I was feeling hungover from the preparation, execution, and the financial toll the weekend took on my mother and me.

Cyd enjoyed the day and the whole weekend.  We had a birthday party for her at her school on Friday afternoon.  She wanted a Little Mermaid-themed party.  This seemed to work out perfectly.  When Timile was pregnant, we joked that almost every year, we were going to have a different themed Disney Princess Party.  When she was three, it was Frozen, four was The Princess and the Frog, and this year was centered around Ariel.  There was a 48″ Ariel balloon that I had to buckle in my seat belt and contemplated keeping for HOV lane purposes.  She was all too excited and for the rest of the day, she reminded us that she is about to be five years old; just in case we forgot.

Sunday afternoon, the family traveled through in the one-degree weather to Manhattan to the American Girl Cafe for tea, snacks, and cake.

We were a little late, so I went inside to check in for our reservation while everyone parked.  I felt very awkward as a large black man, sitting at a table for ten in solitude, while in a room full of little girls.  I just kept my head down and peered into my phone because I was feeling like the biggest creep in America with my VIP table.  I was thankful when people showed up.  That was one of the longest ten minutes in life.

We walked around the three floors as Cydney looked around at the dolls and outfits she wanted.  To her surprise, Neighbour showed up, as well.

Since the cuisine at the American Girl Cafe was finger food, we came back to Long Island, ordered Chinese Food, and sang Happy Birthday to Cyd.  While she ran around with my nephew and cousin, Tyler, I watched the NBA All-Star Game and passed out for two hours.  It seems as if whenever there is no stimuli and I have sit idle for more than five minutes, I fall asleep.  My daughter went to bed happy and that’s all that mattered.

The time between February 14, 2011 and 2016 seems like both a lifetime ago and yesterday.  Cydney’s birth was a surprise, because Timile and I were going in for her 37 week checkup.  Within nine hours, we went from just seeing the doctor to a family so quickly, we didn’t even have a name picked out, yet.  Almost as rapid as those events occurred, as a family, we went from giving life to looking at options to save Timile’s.  It hasn’t been until recently, that I have looked back at 2011 and realized that a LOT of shit happened.  Cydney’s birth wasn’t just a day that changed everything because I became a father; it was the turning point in life in which a complete paradigm shift began.  I’m actually very thankful that everything happened the way that it did.

Right after Cydney went to sleep Saturday night, I thought to myself “I remember my fifth birthday.”  It was the first time in which my birthday fell on Thanksgiving.  My parents wanted to take my sister and I to the Macy’s Parade.  We were late and only saw the Santa Claus float because my father and I were engulfed in a game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Nintendo.

I mention that to say that five years old is the moment in which I still have vivid memories of.  I can remember a handful of things that happened before; but they are mostly flashes and still pictures encapsulated in my mind that I scroll through like old ones in my phone.  That first half-decade really solidifies who we are as people.  Everything else after that is fair game, as far as remembrance.  This means that I have to operate differently in how I do things around her.  I don’t know what she will and won’t remember.

…Hopefully, this birthday will be one of those that she does remember as vividly as I do November 22, 1990.

A Bronx Tale

I have found a lot of my inspiration to write in The Bronx.

The Bronx has always been a crowded-yet-desolate no man’s land.  It’s congested, littered with potholes, loud, and can be pretty dangerous.  More than any other borough, Bronx County was not a place you visited unless you knew someone who could vouch for you; with the exception of visiting the Bronx Zoo or Yankee Stadium.  Those Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and the black people that mated with them were crazy was and still is the way many of us see it.  My grandfather told me tales of his upbringing on Boston Road that supported this.  He moved to Queens in the late 1950’s and most of the family followed.  Hell, my cousins from The Bronx are still an incredibly wild bunch.

December 26, 1998.  My sister and I were at a Christmas party on the north side of Queens.  I met this girl there.  Her name was Jade and she was from the Soundview in The Bronx.  At the time, I only knew what Soundview was because of Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’s big hit and ode to their home, “De Ja Vu (Uptown Baby),” because they shot part of the music video in the Soundview Projects.  I was a shy thirteen year old who regretted the whole ride home that I didn’t get Jade from The Bronx’s number.  It wasn’t like I was ever going to see her again; but it was the principle…middle school logic is that you always get the number.  Somewhere between knowing that my boys would have clowned me for my faux pas and listening to my favorite rapper, Bronx native Big Pun, I was finally inspired to find a marble notebook around the house, a pen, and start writing raps.

That afternoon I wrote three whole songs.  By all means, they are-and that whole book-was the hottest steaming pile of garbage ever.  But we all gotta start somewhere and this was my genesis.  Since the summer of 1997, I knew I had it in me to write my own lyrics, I just didn’t have anything to rap about.  As of December 27, 1998, I wanted to be a combination of my favorite two emcees, Pun and Rakim, as well as run my own record label like Puff Daddy.

Fast forward to the spring of 2015…I met Fly Light Skin who resided in the Boogie Down.  We knew each other through some guest blogging I had done for a site two years prior; but we never met in person.  That April, she had an event in neighboring Yonkers.  I took the Long Island Railroad to Manhattan, then the 1 train up to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and caught a ride from my man, Kalique to meet up with her.  It was definitely worth the trip.

Fly Light Skin and I hit it off.  We would talk for hours on the phone and I found myself doing something I almost never thought I would be doing: frequently making the trek to The Bronx to visit her.  She’d always greet me with a smile and we would ride all over the potholed squalor as she’d tell tales of her upbringing one couldn’t make up.  I’m a little more guile these days; but there is a part of us all that is still an insecure teenager.  For all of the shit that I would talk to her-she was Puerto Rican, lived in The Bronx, and was a huge JLo fan, so I told her she was such a stereotype-I still have moments of being a shy thirteen year old.  By all means, she lived up to the name I had given her, so whenever she wasn’t paying attention I was checking her out.

On the morning of Memorial Day I was sitting at the Royal Coach Diner on the corner of Gun Hill and Boston Roads.  This was a place that Fly Light Skin had put me up on a few weeks prior and we would eat there frequently.  I was playing hooky from my life by pretending I had to go to work when I really had the day off and was waiting on her because we were going to hang out all day.  For months I had barely written for my own site.  I was caught up in the hustle of getting paid to write for other websites and had begun feeling uninspired, citing that I felt as if I needed to take some time off and “live a little.”  Continuously searching inward and 100% of my content coming from my own experiences gets draining from time to time.  I just didn’t have it in me.  Somewhere between my second coffee and thinking about Fly Light Skin a light bulb went off.  I came up with the idea of “My Life in 100 Songs,” in which I would pen essays based around a song.

Down the street from my grandfather’s old stomping grounds I had found my muse in someone and began drafting the first post.  I have only posted on my site fifty-two times this year and thirty-three of them are a part of this series.  Out of those thirty-three, somewhere between six or seven allude to, are based around, or at least once Fly Light Skin had been mentioned in some capacity.  This helped me get back in gear in finishing the first draft of my manuscript as well.  I am greatly appreciative of this because I more or less regained my proverbial mojo when I was feeling depleted of new angles to tell my stories.

Fly Light Skin was like my favorite rappers, Rakim and Big Pun.  For now, I’ll just focus on Pun.  Being Puerto Rican and calling The Bronx home are the obvious.  But it’s more than that.  In ’98, I was enamored with the way this guy would put together words.  Every verse I heard just drew me in more and more.  He did things in a way that I could relate; but where he came from was a different world than the one I resided in between southeast Queens and Nassau County.  Pun’s talent for manipulating words, flow, and wit made him larger than life and put him in a class all by himself.  That was Fly Light Skin.  They both made me recognize there was something in me that I knew was there that I just didn’t quite know how to utilize.  They inspired me to write.

Harlem

“Seventh, Lenox, and what about the East Side? Harlem…” Jim Jones

For the sake of not writing forever, I said that I wouldn’t put anything in the book that happened after my thirtieth birthday.  But, I had been planning on writing this particular essay for the last three months, so I guess this doesn’t count.

It is December 10, 2015.  Yesterday marked four years since Timile passed away.  On my blog, I wrote an open letter to her, penning many of the things that I have been meaning to get off of my chest.  Dr. Harper, Timile’s favorite professor at Spelman and personal she-ro, commented on the post via Facebook, and we talked about the first time we met in the spring of 2007.  The ladies had to perform vignettes based on his poetry and I came along to help her out.  Dr. Harper posted a picture of the performance and I smiled to myself as I remembered the set design.  The background displayed a street sign that represented the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue.  I remembered thinking to myself, “I know exactly where that corner is.”

Between two rivers,
North of the park,
Like darker rivers
The streets are dark.-Langston Hughes

While Washington Heights and the Bronx are called this as well, when New Yorkers refer to “Uptown,” we mean Harlem…the black Mecca that lies between the East and Hudson Rivers that begins north of Central Park.

I remember the rides to visit or pick my grandmother up from work.  She worked on 120th Street and Riverside Drive.  We would cross the Triboro Bridge and travel across the world famous 125th Street.  There were always a million people outside.  Traveling west, the Apollo Theatre would be on your right before crossing Fredrick Douglass Boulevard.  Two blocks later, you could see the projects on your left, which made for a very interesting dynamic that perfectly summed up what Uptown was: a beautiful ghetto.  These are my first memories of this place that was a completely different planet than the one I came from known as Southeast Queens.

“This ain’t Queens, homie, you surrounded my deadly grounds.” Jim Jones

In New York, your neighborhood is your country and the borough you reside in is your planet.  Nonetheless, we New Yorkers live in our own solar system even though each place is so different.  People from Queens are stereotyped as the laid-back people with cars.  Brooklynites were traditionally grimy and rugged people, the Hasidic Jews who hate black people, or are part of the Russian Mob.  While this is still the case, much of Brooklyn has been gentrified, so there are sub-stereotypes such as the yuppies and the incense-burning, Afro-hippies.  The Bronx is crowded and cluttered slum filled with Puerto Ricans, black people who mate with the Puerto Ricans, and the Yankees.  Staten Island is Italian Gangland, Wu Tang Clan, and just the way you get to New Jersey.  Nobody actually lives in Manhattan with the exception of those in Harlem.  Harlemites were the loud and flashy hustlers that are considered obnoxious by everyone from the other four boros.  With the exception of people from Staten Island because you never see them, New Yorkers just know who is from where by the way they walk, talk, and carry themselves.

To this day, with the exception of people from Queens and their cars, most of my friends as adults still don’t travel to the other boros because of these stereotypes and what we remember these places looking like before it was gentrified.  In my early teenage years, I would spend weekends in Harlem on 139th Street and Fredrick Douglass.  In the summertime, the Ruff Ryders would congregate in droves by the McDonald’s across the street on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.  You could hear them.  On the rides home, you could see that Harlem was beginning to change and within ten years things would be very different.

Since moving back to New York four years ago, I have spent many nights hanging out Uptown.  Harlem is the hip-yet fairly affordable for New York-place where all the young black professionals reside.  It’s a very different place, now.  These days when I take the 1, 2, 3, A, C, D, 4, 5, or 6 trains I would see so many white people sitting to themselves headed home at night.  Funny thing is they almost all got off before by 135th Street.  With that said, Harlem is still Harlem once you head north of 140th Street (there are still pockets that remain the same; but I’m generalizing).  So many of my friends from college who moved here after graduation congregate up that way, so we’ll be out and about in those streets.

Looking at that street sign in that picture today made me think back to nine years ago as well as my life right now.  In 2007, it was just a sign I saw with the girl I was in love with that reminded me of home I would pass visiting my grandmother at work.  Now, that sign makes me think of a place I have many memories that have nothing to do with Timile in which I wouldn’t had she not passed away.  Between 125th and 126th Streets and Lenox Avenue are three night spots in which I have hung out many nights as recent as two weeks ago.  I have spent at least one night at Corner Social, Cove Lounge, or Red Rooster around my birthday every year since 2011.

The first time that I told my ex that I loved her was on the corner of Lenox and 125th Street.  The day after we broke up I was at a party trying to get over her on a rooftop in Spanish Harlem on the east side.  Four days ago, I had a meeting with regards to some of the ways I will be furthering my career and brand I have created.  I looked at that picture and smiled about the good ol’ days, what is happening now, and where things will be going.

Dear Summer

“Dear Summer: I know you gon’ miss me.”

For the last fourteen years I have considered the morning of September eleventh the end of Summer. I was a little more than two months from turning sixteen and literally the world around me changed based on a tragedy in the backyard the Long Island suburb where I spent my high school years. As a native New Yorker, I think I see this day much different than many of my friends because we were all affected by no more than one degree of separation.

Before the World Trade Center attacks it had felt like something was in the air and change was coming. Couldn’t tell you what it was…All I knew was my football team had an uphill battle with all of our quarterbacks injured for the season and Jay Z’s Blueprint was dropping 9/11.

All of these years later I find myself on my lunch break in the apartment complex across the street from my job remembering exactly what I was doing 366 days ago. I had recently been let go of my job, the inevitable breakup with someone I loved had just happened, and because of the latter, I lost my best friend. I was sitting on a bench in this same apartment complex penning my ex a letter that essentially was me letting go. That wasn’t what it said; but it was me closing a chapter that I wished didn’t end. Looking back, it needed to. I dropped it off at her doorstep and began the grieving process.

A year and a day later I look back and think that those circumstances needed to happen. Summer was ending and we both needed to grow.

“They say if you love it, you should let it out its cage. And fuck it, if it comes back, you know it’s there to stay.” This quote from Jay Z’s ode to his beloved summer was and is very appropriate. I spent the fall feeling incredibly lost. But I needed to feel lost to be reminded of who I really am. I spent the autumn grieving, the winter releasing and beginning to rebuild, the spring seeing things beginning to bud again, and by the time I returned from Virginia summer had returned in spite of still being distant.

This summer I needed space from some of everything. My return to where Timile is resting gave me clarity. By August I had a couple nights where I flirted and kind of dated summer I had a conversation with my good friend Scott. He said that for the first time in a long time, the Chad Milner he knew was back. I wasn’t as cynical or full of self-doubt. The consensus between the two of us is that one of my finest qualities is not giving a fuck. I began to care too much about others’ perception of myself and that hindered a charm that has continously opened up doors.

People pleasing has always been my kryptonite. I’m a caretaker by nature, I don’t like conflict, and I’ll do whatever to keep both from happening. Happiness is being my unabashed self and things tend to work out when I do. On the other hand, I am a control freak who trusts no one. My distrust meant I was searching for an unhealthy amount and the balance was off.

There is nothing in the world like summer in New York. However, fall is my favorite time of year and I honestly believe my home is even greater. The eleventh of September is a reminder that a new year for me starts in two months and eleven days. My daughter started school last week and thirty is coming. Time to get back to doing what I do as Jay so eloquently put it: thuggin’ ’till the casket dips.

The Summer of 1997

The summer of 1997 is when I fell in love with hip hop.  I liked it before then.  My father and his friends have told me stories of me being a toddler coming into his studio, getting onto the mic, and pretending to be one in the late ’80’s.  I had my favorite songs that I would hear on the radio, could rap along with the hits, and at eleven years old had memorized all of the words to The Fugees’ sophomore album, The Score.  Hip hop was an acquaintance.  We would say hi to each other, have a casual conversation, and play with each other every once in a while.  Hell, throughout the 90’s I used to flirt with it not quite knowing that’s what I was doing.  The summer before I started seventh grade we had hung out so much not only had it become my best friend, an organic relationship blossomed into something I couldn’t get enough of.

In 1997, hip hop was in the beginning of a transition.  2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were killed within months of each other and that ultimately lead to a shift in the music; and the cultural landscape had followed.  It was no different than an eleven year old kid from New York beginning to go through puberty.  I had just finished y first year of middle school.  Sixth grade is still elementary school-ish, you just have a little more freedom and a locker.  My junior high was a magnet school on the other side of Queens.  That in itself had opened me up to a world I knew existed; but what was once just theory had begun to be applied knowledge.

I lived in St. Albans, which is in the southeast, and my school was located on the northwest side.  My bus ride was over an hour long.  The route started in my neighborhood that was 100% black, rode through affluent Jamacia Estates, stopped in predominantly Jewish Kew Gardens, and ended in East Elmhurst, which is predominantly hispanic.  That hour-plus ride was when I started listening to the radio every morning and began to pick up on all of the new music.  At 8PM, I sat by my radio listening to Hot 97’s with my finger ready to release the pause button because record and play were locked down.  

The summer of 1997 was the time when I first began to formulate my own identity. Hip hop was and still is the foundation of how I express myself. As one can attest to in reading this blog or meeting me in person, and this is a large part of my foundation.

Over the course of the next few days, my posts will be based around songs from that summer that defined me.