Mychal Denzel Smith, Fellow at The Nation Institute, author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, forthcoming from Nation Books.
I’m awake again.
It usually takes about three tries before I’m awake for real. Still, this is earlier than I’d like to be up. But Saturday is Jordan release day and I’ve got to head around the corner to the Jimmy Jazz soon if I’m going to avoid the line. I’m a sneakerhead, but only to the degree it doesn’t require me to wait in any long lines. I shouldn’t be buying sneakers anyway — I have way too many, and this particular sneaker (Air Jordan 7 “Marvin the Martian”) is so close to a pair that came out earlier this year and that I already have (Air Jordan 7 “Barcelona Nights”) it’s nothing probably a waste of money. But I love sneakers. They give me an instant confidence boost. And the “Marvin the Martian” theme calls back to the Jordan/Looney Tunes connection, which makes me think of Space Jam, which makes me think of how it’s been almost twenty years since that movie came out, which makes me think of how all the cultural touchstones of my youth are turning 20/25, which makes me think of just how old I’m getting, which… I’m just going to go buy the sneakers.
Jordans purchased and I’m headed back home. There wasn’t a terribly long line, but there was still a line, which gave me plenty of time to think of how ridiculous this all was and how I’m feeding the capitalist machine and yadda yadda yadda. I know. I still love sneakers. I think I deserve some bit of joy. I’m going to lay in bed and read now, working my way through Harry Belafonte’s memoir.
I’ve finished the bit of reading I’m going to do for right now and I’m opening up my laptop to get some work done. I’m way past deadline on my latest book chapter, but that’s not a new development. I know I’m going to finish this book, somehow some way, but the less it looks like it’s going to be on time the more I panic. It’s not helpful to think about this. I’m writing a few things in between looking at sneakers online, skimming Twitter, reading an article about LeBron James paying for 1000 kid’s college tuition, which makes me think of Jay Z/Kanye song “Gotta Have It” where they go “Niggas hate ballers these days/ain’t that like LeBron James?” Now I need to listen to that song. It’s going to be stuck in my head the rest of the day. I’m done writing and it’s time to take myself to brunch, as I do once a week. I brush my teeth, thrown on my summer uniform (t-shirt, basketball shorts, sneakers), and walk out the door with Young Jeezy’s “Thug Motivation 101” in my headphones.
I’m seated at the bar for brunch. I come here once a week and use it as a treat to myself and a time to reflect. I started coming here not too long after I moved to New York two years ago, because I liked the food and the clientele was always really attractive, and now the bartenders/servers know my face/name and are interested in my life. I have to catch them up on last week because I didn’t make it in. I was in Ferguson and now I’m telling them all about it, how it looked exactly like a year ago when Michael Brown was killed and how I ran from police and about the teargas and tanks. They say they can’t wait to read the essay I’ve written about it. I’ve got my meal — scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, vegan sausage (I’m not vegan/vegetarian, but don’t eat pork and they don’t have any non-pork meat options), biscuit, and mimosa. I’m eating while reading an article about not letting your husband be a stay-at-home dad, in which someone is talking about considering $35,000 a year childcare, and now I’m dismissing this as a high class ass problem. I’m watching the latest Jay Smooth vlog where he’s talking about Bernie Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter, and as usual Jay’s analysis is on point. I’m reading an article called “Boys Like Me” on Gawker, because Kiese Laymon (the best writer on the planet) curates the Saturday personal essay series and there’s a lot of dope shit published there.
I’m perusing EnormousEye.com and think I may need to be better about time stamping my activities.
I’m sending Rembert a text to see if he’s going to either of the social events I’ve got scheduled for the day. First, there’s Ruby-Beth’s welcome back to New York City drinks in BedStuy, then Amy Rose’s housewarming party/reading in Williamsburg. Rembert’s the only person I know who knows both of them and could potentially be at either and then I would know someone else aside from the host.
“Gotta Have It” lyrics are still stuck in my head.
Stacy, one of the bartenders who has become a friend, is sliding me a note that says “That girl just checked you out big time!” I’m laughing. There was a woman who came to bar and stood next to me as asked whatever it was she asked. I have no idea if she was checking me out or not. But I’m laughing at Stacy’s note regardless. And now I have to pee.
I’m back from the bathroom and now feeling self conscious about every move I make because what if she was and still is checking me out?
I’m drinking tea to reduce the buzz from my four mimosas. It’s not drunk, but it’s just the right amount of carefree looseness I like when I sit to think about the week behind me, the week ahead, and life’s other grand questions. But I’m also going to be drinking more later, so bringing it down a bit is a good call.
I feel some tension in my shoulders. I think I need a massage, but I also know it’ll be a while before I get one because I’m bad at making plans for anything.
I just burned my tongue on my tea. I may be overcompensating on the timestamps now.
“Gotta Have it” lyrics are still stuck in my head.
Yep, still stuck.
I’ve got to get going , so I pay for my meal and mimosas (they usually spot me one and cover my tea, because they like me and I tip well), and leave.
There’s some kind of concert happening in the park, but I’m not curious enough to find out what it is. It’s probably something that won’t happen anymore once this neighborhood is completely gentrified.
I’ve just gotten back home and I’m contemplating either taking a nap, doing some more work, or heading straight out to Ruby-Beth’s. Its already started, but I can’t decide on just how fashionably late I’m going to be.
Rembert texts me back and tells me he’s out of town. I’m going to have to fly solo. I tell him I’m doing Enormous Eye this weekend (he’s already done it) and his texts might end up in my catalogue of events. He never texts me back.
Instead of napping or working or leaving, I’m going to watch the episode of Difficult People on Hulu that I fell asleep on yesterday.
Apparently, I chose the nap. I’m only waking up now because my phone was ringing. I don’t answer because I A) don’t like talking on the phone B) am not in the habit of picking up from numbers I don’t recognize and C) especially don’t like talking on the phone with numbers I don’t recognize right after I wake up.
I’m listening to the voicemail and realize I do need to call back. It’s the producer for the TV show I’m due to appear on tomorrow. She’s giving me the rundown for the topics I’ll be discussing.
I have to send my mother a text because she hates when she misses any of my TV appearances. I also need to order a car because I’m mad late for Ruby-Beth’s and I’m not taking the train because intra-Brooklyn public transportation sucks.
The car is downstairs and for some reason I know how Janelle Monae and crew’s new “Hell You Talmbout” in my head. It’s a fine enough song, but also it bothers me how they took the idea behind #SayHerName — raising up the names of black women who have been victims of state violence — and added “say his name” to the mix and diluted the meaning. But in the car, that’s competing with “Forgot About Dre” on the radio — one of my favorite songs, but gives me pause to think about Dr. Dre’s history of abusing women — and the open fire hydrant spraying water.
My driver has what appears to be a picture of her daughter in the dashboard. I noticed it as we pulled over to let a fire truck pass. The things we need to help us get through our workdays.
We’re passing over Myrtle Ave and Marcus Garvey Blvd. where four police officers are standing on the corner. Nothing is happening, they’re just standing there. This is what we think of as good policing, apparently. All it does is make me anxious.
I’m walking toward the backyard of Project Parlor and I spot Ruby-Beth seated and surrounded by people I don’t know. Except behind her is a friend of a friend that I went out on a date with once. Awkward. I know I’ll speak to her eventually, but first I should catch up with Ruby-Beth. She’s back in New York after leaving and spending a year in Atlanta (her hometown) to attend CUNY law school. I’m telling her about the book, the stress, the losing my hair. It’s good to see her.
Ruby-Beth’s boyfriend (who also just moved back to New York) passed me a spliff. New friends with weed are the best kind of friends.
The friend of a friend that I went out on a date with once is walking past and now is as good a time as any to say hi. We’ve barely ended our embrace before she says, “Hey guess what? We hung out one time and I never heard from you again.” I mean, it’s true. That was back in January. Once I started seriously writing the book, I didn’t go out as much. And when I did, it was with people I could confirm liked me. I didn’t think this woman liked me all that much. Suppose I should have went out with her again, or at least sent her a text, to find out. But I usually pick up on these things and don’t like wasting too much time if I can’t sense any interest. I’m not telling her any of this, just catching up and discussing the reason she made the trek from Harlem to Brooklyn (this bar is doing an all West Coast hip-hop party, she’s from Oakland).
Ruby-Beth is introducing me to one of her friends who knows my work. I’m the most awkward in these situations, but she introduced him as the person who introduced prison abolition to her, so I’m deflecting toward discussion of his work. That only works but so much.
I should leave soon if I plan on making it to Amy Rose’s for the readings. I’m wishing Ruby-Beth all the best with law school, and we’re doing the thing friends who don’t see each other often do, talking about how we’re going to make sure we hang out. I’ll have more time once this book is done, I keep telling everyone and myself, but every time I say it the book feels less done. The friend of a friend who I went out with once is not letting me leave. She keeps saying it’s the best song and I can’t leave. They’re dope songs — Snoop Dogg’s “What’s My Name,” Tupac’s “I Get Around” — and I stay for while, dancing and rapping along. Now Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” is on. Instant love and nostalgia, but it’s also a repeat from the earlier DJ’s set, so I can convince her I’m allowed to go. My car is on the way.
I don’t like when the driver wants to chat. I’m not Thomas Friedman. But this driver really wants to chat. He wants to chat about “females.” “You know what the WOMPer is??? That’s Weapon Of Mass Persuasion!” His jokes are making him laugh, and so long as he’s entertaining himself I don’t have to do it. There’s classic hip-hop on the radio, too, providing a welcome escape from his banter.
I’ve got to shower and buy liquor before heading to Amy Rose’s.
The guy I met at Ruby-Beth’s just sent me a FB message. He spelled my name wrong. IT’S RIGHT THERE. YOU SAID YOU READ MY WORK. WHY DO YOU INSIST ON SPELLING IT “MICHAEL.” IT’S NOT THAT FUCKING HARD. Seriously. That shit irritates me so hard. I’m going to take a shower.
It shouldn’t be taking me that long to get dressed because I already know what shoes I’m wearing. I told Amy Rose I’d be buying new shoes just for her party, and while I didn’t exactly buy them explicitly for the party, the Marvin the Martians will be worn tonight. The thing holding me up is figuring out what shirt to wear. I’m settling on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt, because there are hints of the same green in my new kicks.
I’m trying to decided if I like Amy Rose enough to buy the good liquor. My spending habits do not reflect how much debt I’m in. But I like her enough and haven’t seen her in a while and it’s a housewarming. Let’s get the good liquor.
I’m coming out of the subway in Amy Rose’s neighborhood and searching for a pizza spot. I’ll need food and water if I’m going to drink anymore. I’ve got to go on TV tomorrow. Last time I was on this show I was hungover. I’m trying to make slightly more responsible decisions. The pizza place I’ve found is named Tony’s and there’s a pictures of “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos” on the wall. There are two older Italian men behind the glass and a young black delivery guy. The whole scene is giving me “Do the Right Thing.”
Walking in to Amy Rose’s place and it’s good to see her. But I’m also thinking of the last time I saw her, which was at another house party months ago, and I was trying to make sure my kinda-date made it home after throwing up in the front yard. It’s not so much about that particular memory but that particular person. Whatever could have been with her, I fucked up badly. I fell hard, I fell fast, and I let that cloud reason, rationality, and respect for her emotions. Amy Rose and I aren’t talking about any of this. She just finished her book recently, and I’m telling her all about how stressful it’s been trying finish mine. Oh, and has she ever been part of someone’s day while they were documenting for Enormous Eye?
It’s really hot. And suddenly I have Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” stuck in my head. I don’t know anyone here, so I’m doing what I do at any party where I don’t know anyone: posting up on the wall and drinking.
Amy Rose is starting the readings. The first person is reading a piece she wrote about her boyfriend getting drunk with Guy Fieri. I’m sitting next to the boyfriend. It’s pretty hilarious.
The second reading is wrapping up a long fiction narrative that I wasn’t always able to follow but was certainly well written. Amy Rose is calling for a quick break and I’m thinking that I’m not doing a good enough job documenting things and that my Enormous Eye piece is going to suck. I’ve been writing professionally for five years and I still wonder why anyone gives a shit what I have to say. That’s part of what’s making it so hard to finish writing the book. What if no one cares?
The next reader is really quick. It’s a short piece about love. It makes me think about her again. I really fucked that up and I wish I could have another shot. It’s unlikely.
The boyfriend who got drunk with Guy Fieri is having a discussion about a milk drinking challenge — consume a whole gallon of milk in an hour — with his friends, one of whom is supremely confident in her ability to complete this challenge. I’m only listening, smiling, and nodding, though. I haven’t had enough to drink to feel confident talking to people I don’t know without someone I do know nearby.
The day, technically, is nearing its close and I’m wondering should I stop documenting at exactly midnight, or do I wait until I get home. I obsess over the details that seem like they should mean the least. That’s part of why it’s so hard to finish the book. And fuck, I’ve got to do TV in the morning. I really should be in bed. But right now I can’t take my eyes off one of the women standing in the doorway of Amy Rose’s bedroom. She’s stunning, and also reminding me of why every time I think I’m ready to maybe consider a committed monogamous relationship, I abandon the idea. Her, I’m probably never going to talk to. But I still like the idea that there’s a possibility.
I’m checking my email with the outline for tomorrow’s TV appearance and once again reminding myself not to get too drunk. I should go home soon.
OK, I’ll have one more drink. I haven’t even touched the bourbon I brought, opting for the grapefruit juice/champagne/vodka concoction. But now I’ve got bourbon. And Amy Rose is introducing me to woman from the doorway, who extends her left hand because her right has a cigarette and a drink in it. Her face is perfect. But all of this is now being broken up by an overly drunk dude yelling things that don’t make any sense in our general direction. I’m heading to the living room to finish my drink.
Someone in the hallway is talking about the Allen Iverson “practice” press conference, as though they just discovered it, and it’s making me smile. It’s one of my favorite things.
Overly drunk dude has made his way to the living room before I’ve had a chance to finish my drink. Splayed out on the couch, he’s telling me about how he wants to move to New Orleans because he could do much better there. Not wanting to be completely rude, I’m asking what he means, but before he explains, the woman from the doorway walks in to charge her phone and his attention is turned to her. I don’t know what happened, but he pissed her off fiercely and she has no time for whatever is currently trying to come out of his mouth. When she’s gone, he’s in the floor, and I’m making my way out the door.
Saying my goodbyes to Amy Rose. She’s admiring the kicks once more, and we make plans to attend each other’s book parties, hers due out in April next year, mine in June. But I can’t leave without telling her that the overly drunk dude is being messy. She’s going to go kick him out. It’s always good seeing Amy Rose.
When you get down the stairs of the subway station, and it says your train is going to be another eight minutes, and it’s hot as ten summers, eight minutes is oppression. And “King Kunta” is stuck in my head again.
I’m on my way home and there’s a man peeing outside.
If I were a responsible adult, I’d have been home a while ago. But I’m here now and I’ll be in bed soon. I’ve just got to find a place to put these sneakers.