Okay, my podcast is back for its fourth episode (you missed the previous ones? Plug in, get connected …) talking about all brands of pop culture foolishness and what have you. On deck this time …
- 4 NON BLONDES: (news) Rise of the Black Superman, Rise of the Black Comedian, Rise of the Black Comic Book Writer & Rise of the Robot Black Panther
- SIMPLY THE BEST: Comic book recommendations from the last few months
- THE DUNLAP AWARD: (get caught up on what’s happened) The grand failure of iOS 8.
- THE BLACK THOUGHT: Reading between the lines of Dear White People
Fun stuff, and done in under 30 minutes. Can’t beat that!
Lemme see if I can just plop this here … ah, perfect!
I also recognize the humor of doing my fourth episode with its first blog — y’all will have to check the prequels later, if you missed them. yes, I love how this has worked out and no, I don’t have a plan after Episode 7 … it’s just like real life.
Oh, I always forget to do this — the music credits!
- “It’s Komplicated” Theme (produced by Hannibal Tabu, featuring samples from “She Wants To Move” remix by N.E.R.D. AND “The Other Side” by Bruno Mars)
- “4 Non Blondes” Theme (produced by Hannibal Tabu, featuring a sample from “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes
- “Simply The Best” theme (produced by Hannibal Tabu, featuring samples from “Simply The Best” by Tina Turner and “In The Middle, Part 1″ by James Brown)
- “The Wake Up Show Promo” (produced by DJ J. Love the Soundsmith)
- “The Black Thought” Theme (produced by Hannibal Tabu, featuring samples from “The Next Movement” by The Roots & “The Official ’10″ by Timeless Beats)
This podcast is a labor of love and I believe should be available through IHeartRadio as of this (or the next) episode. I’ll be rocking out with a Heart concert afterparty mix in the mid-December episode. Thanks for checking it out, and if you like what you hear, please let it be known!
Playing (Music): “I’m Sorry, I Didn’t Know It Was Your Mama” by Lenny Williams
According to all reports, Wednesday was the last “new comics day” for Comics Ink.
The Buy Pile grew up at Comics Ink, originally an idea from Allen Hui and Eric Stephenson (yes, that one) for the now defunct Spinnerrack.com, we had the idea that we could do comics reviews and post them online and people would care. I kept going when Spinner Rack went the way of most dot coms of that era, and I’ve been doing it for eleven years, most of which happened at Comics Ink.
To say that I felt at home in this Culver City comics shop was an understatement. The day before my youngest child was born, I went to the store in order to preside over a “case” where a trial lawyer argued against a school teacher that Namor needed his flappy ankle wings to fly. I hit that same teacher with a folding chair before going on to DJ his wedding. I loved going there and I loved the people there.
There was some … unpleasantness that led to the shop making a business decision last year, a decision to distance themselves from me. I respect that, as a businessman. I made a business decision to likewise not return. This is not due to hard feelings but due to pragmatism. I wasn’t there when they started and couldn’t be there when they ended, but still, one last farewell.
Quislet (Adam): This January was the end of the “sentence” where I would stop referring to him as a diminutive retconned Legionnaire. Despite years of virtually relentless verbal abuse (and, when I hit him with a chair, physical abuse), I actually respected this award winning educator and husband so much more than my words would imply. He was not perfect, but he generally meant well and has a genuine dedication to improving the lives of children.
Jason: Beat maker, hip hop scholar, deadpan commentator and generally all-around great guy, you were the calm steady voice in the clamor of crazy, every time. From the instrumentals you shared to the great times cracking jokes that most people missed, my changing schedule meant missing you more often than not. Truly one to be missed.
Vince: A true friend and collaborator at every level, I would work with Vince on almost any project for almost any reason. A skillful editor, a savvy retailer, a talented writer, and a true brother in arms. I am eternally grateful for Comics Ink bringing him into my life.
Steve: A smarter businessman than I could ever be, a savvy connoisseur of fine wines who taught me a lot about the comics industry that I could not have known otherwise. Without him, none of my comics career would exist, without his hard work, I’d have had a tougher road, and I appreciate that a great deal.
The new owners are changing this to the Culver City branch of The Comics Bug, a fantastic shop in the south bay run by seasoned professionals. I wish them the best with their new business and highly recommend them, as I have with Comics Ink over the decades.
All things change in time. I’m a fan, either way. I miss the shop and I’m enormously grateful for my time there.
Playing (Music): “Come And Get Your Love” by Leon Redbone
In the picture here you see a Transformer mixed in with Lego Friends characters. Eagle-eyed readers have called this Transformer Mega-Octane, due to the colors, but I grew up knowing this face and form as Onslaught and that’s how I refer to him.
Why are these toys co-mingled? Well, in the rise of Fort Awesome, I ended up playing with toys alongside my two daughters. My eldest, logically, began a battle based scenario where her Japanese helicopter robot (fascinating import we bought at a Sanrio store) wanted to bully its way into getting whatever it wanted, regardless of who needed to get shoved. I knew such a narrative could lead to rambunctiousness with my sometimes not-so-controlled youngesy, leading to blankets falling down on my head.
Thinking fast, I posited a different idea: Onslaught was now a repentent Combaticon, a mechanoid that had done a lot of dirt but was trying to turn his life around. Since he was forged as a weapon, he still had guns, but one had been “remade” into an “anti-gun gun,” that would stop other weapons from functioning. He and all his “friends” (a bin full of non-display toys I had around including four Aerialbot knock offs, a lingering Combaticon space shuttle and Wreck-Gar alongside a latter day Buzzsaw wielded by the youngest) outnumbered the eldest’s helicopter and movie Arcee the eldest brought to bear, eventually sending the belligerence out of Fort Awesome in shame.
Onslaught befriended Stephanie (the blonde Lego girl on the bike), who introduced him to her teacher Miss Stephens (brown hair, glasses), so he could “learn how not to be a bad guy.” Now Onslaught has sleep overs at (outside) Stephanie’s house and they hang out, picking shapes out of clouds.
Is there a metaphor in here about me? A “bad guy” breaking good to spend time with someone smaller who adores him? Something to be learned about even how a true villain doesn’t have to be evil all the time, and has people who find them wonderful? Maybe.
What I do know is that my girls love giant robots and crawling under blanket forts on a hot Saturday afternoon as much as I do, even without learning how to make an enfilade with them, instead choosing not to fight. In my book, no matter your color scheme, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Photo by Leroy Hamilton
Saturday afternoon, after driving children to the northside to be in rehearsals for a big Hollywood play (link good until December 7, 2014) and piano practice to participate in a panel as part of Recharge, a completely teen-produced three day festival celebrating and educating the youth of south Los Angeles in conjunction with the Leimert Park Village African Art and Music Festival.
The event is for teens only — no parents, no siblings — to provide a safe space for the youth to be able to express themselves without judgement.
I was invited to speak on a panel called “Hip Hop Values: Gender and Cultural Appropriation” alongside educators Dr. Ayo Alabi and Sebastien Elkouby about … well, a lot. Like to hear it? Here it goes …
The teens were engaged, insightful, well-read, funny and fantastic. I’m doing another panel on “Police Abuse: Your Rights When Stopped.” I have to read up on that one — I knew this subject well enough to freestyle.
With two girls, every teen or kid I can help is one less person waiting in a grocery store parking lot about to shank my daughters. I’m just saying …
Playing (Music): “Sunshine” by Childish Gambino
While looking for a draft script for my podcast, I came across this. Even with Ferguson, MO heavy on my mind, this required sharing.
There’s no such thing as peace.
Rocket propelled grenades
sit next to breakfast bowl
play with 7.62 mm shell casings,
find blood splattered on street
four days out of seven.
More dead from fever and hunger,
less discriminating surge.
Baba fights the Americans,
Kalashnikov his companion
more often than mama.
Baba’s baba fought the Russians,
Americans at his side
more than his bride
whispered Pashto in his ear.
I am eleven years old.
I have never been kissed
by anyone not a blood relative.
I can make out
a passage or two of scripture,
know rustle of baba’s thick beard
and coarse clothes
when he hugs me,
taste of mama’s kahdoos.
Two years ago,
left a magazine near marketplace.
Kept it hidden for a month,
buried behind the house,
before daring to gaze upon
impossibly smooth skinned westerners.
Smiling and immodest,
shaven faced men,
like children, really
women’s bosoms in view.
They look like they’ve never known
bits of gravel in stew,
like they eat meat
less gamy than goat,
and not just on special days.
They look like relentless,
cloying smell of poppies
isn’t woven into every memory.
I don’t hate them,
fat and godless,
but I understand those who do.
I’m too hungry
to hate them.
sounds of shelling and screams
hopefully far from my pallet.
Wonder what nights are like
beyond hills of Sharobi,
where baby faced boy-men
sleep next to red lipped harlots
on endless pillows,
in safety …
Mama tells stories
about golden days of Afghanistan,
days when quiet wasn’t frightening,
times of plenty.
when she’s not around,
says we’ve always been
stop on somebody’s road
never wanting to be here,
always needing to control the way.
there’s no such thing as peace.
I don’t know about any of that.
I know sand and stone,
I know running and gunfire,
body parts and explosions,
prayer and waiting
for freedom even I don’t believe
will ever come.
“Jangi Shah: A Hymn For Afghanistan”
By Hannibal Tabu
Thanks to Myshell Tabu and KPFK
Just because you have it bad doesn’t mean somebody else doesn’t have it worse. That also doesn’t mean that what’s happening to you is all right. All things in perspective.
Playing (Music): “Black Hole Sun” cover by Paul Anka
Why does your Astro City 14 review completely diss the issue but still put it in the Buy Pile? That makes no sense.
I responded …
Thank you for reading my column and for writing in.
When a series has three “jump” issues in a row, it gets what’s called “buy on sight” status. I pick it up first when I get to the store and buy it without even opening it, reading it when I get home later on. Astro City hit that status … spirit, years ago. Before Dark Ages, probably, maybe around the Beautie special issue.
Once a title hits that status, it has to have three “bad” or “off” issues in a row before it gets dropped back down into the “striving for a shot” stack.
Astro City has had, in its current 14 or so issue run, three less-than-stellar issues, none of which were in a row. Therefore, it would be two more bad issues in a row before this would be dropped from an automatic berth in the “buy” pile.
Good question and totally fair. Thanks again for reading and for writing in, have a great day!
I may not have followed what I believe was Stan Lee’s rule on new readers: everyone is picking up the work for the very first time, so allowances have to be made for that. Maybe an alteration in my opening documentation. We’ll see.
Playing (Music): “Only When You’re Close” by Zendaya
Oy, all right then.
What an interesting time it is. I’ve spent months preparing for this July, and now, “finally we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. Finally, we will have our revenge.”
First up, the prelude to it all was the Brave New Souls roundtable on KFI 640 AM with my good friend Mr. Mo’Kelly. I found myself in Burbank sitting across from Tony Puryear (screnwriter for the movie Eraser), Erika Alexander (the legendary “Cousin Pam” from The Cosby Show and Maxine Shaw on the equally influential Living Single), Geoffrey Thorne (whose career spans acting from In The Still Of The Night to writing and producing shows like Leverage and The Librarians), storyboarding instructor and inaugural Glyph Awards winner Robert Roach, CV Nation producer DeWayne Copeland, television and comics writer Dani Dixon and my esteemed friend, the Eisner-nominated Brandon Easton.
For an hour we discussed issues of representation and content, making jokes but taking things seriously. It was enormously entertaining and we should really, really do that sort of thing more often.
That was a Saturday, and two days later I launched It’s Komplicated: The Operative Word, a new podcast. I plan for it to be a monthly instance, and I have plans already for guests and new installments.
Monday also noticed the heralding of the all-new, all-different Operative Network, now a creative studio featuring not just myself but the Glyph Award-winning team of Jason Reeves and Alverne Ball, Legends Press owner Quinn McGowan and animation writer Damion Gonzales. Together we pool resources, collaborate, quality check each other and generally step the game up, which is fantastic.
All just preamble. At San Diego Comic-Con there were three more surprises.
The first ashcan from the Operative Network, Cruel Summer: The Visual Mixtape was available in limited quantities as a printed artifact. After the convention, available as a free PDF download. The first hit’s free, everything else you have to pay. Featuring pages from Project: Wildfire and the Glyph Award-winning comic One Nation, character profiles from the animated series T.A.S.K. as well as an exclusive preview of the new series slated for 2015, The Foundation.
The day before SDCC, New Money was released on ComiXology. Imagine Entourage with everybody being rich, not just one guy. It’s a hoot, and it’s only a buck. Can’t beat that.
At the Insights for Independent Creators panel, Alverne, Jason and I passed out ashcans and showcased an animatic sizzle reel for T.A.S.K.. Let’s roll that clip …
Oh, and one more thing …
I was named the writer of the the Aspen Sourcebook, an official handbook for the Aspen universe. I am working on Fathom and Soulfire first, but the line will expand into the Executive Assistant line and so on. It’s quite a committment, but I’m very happy about it.
This blog isn’t just an ad for myself. Largely, but not completely. I have learned a lot, working with a lot of talented people in developing the numerous projects I am bringing to market.
So, with Jason Reeves …
… Quinn McGowan …
… Damion Gonzales (with Sean Isaakse) …
… and Alverne Ball …
… it’s time to come out of the shadows. It’s almost midnight.
UPDATE: Interviewed on The Huffington Post …
I’ve had a busy time, promoting my very first comic book, which was released internationally on February 26th with a signing at Hi De Ho Comics. So many good friends came through (including the incredibly talented Leroy Hamilton, who took this great video) and I met new friends (and hopefully fans) who bought the book, got it signed and had a chat. I have never had a signing before, so it was a new experience but I believe things went really well.
First, I’m enormously grateful to my good friend Mr. Mo’Kelly who brought me on his wonderful radio show (KFI AM 640) on March 1st to discuss various and nerdy issues, which was a very enjoyable evening that had far more discussion of animal abuse than I expected.
Second, I got a wonderful invitation from Vito Lapiccola to appear on the extraordinarily entertaining (and slightly more profane) Comics on Comics podcast from Sideshow Networks. I was a guest alongside Jessica the Comic Book Girl as Vito and his partner Juan discussed a wide variety of topics. I think our Star Wars discussion alone is worth the price of admission, but I enjoyed so much of the talk that most of us were reluctant to shut it down.
Lastly, I’m very grateful for all these opportunities (and the tireless efforts of my wife to help promote with her johnny-on-the-spot web flyers) and I look forward to announcing more, like the release date for my four issues of Project: Wildfire and my three issue story, Menthu: The Anger of Angels.
Playing (Music): “Everything Is Awesome” by Tegan & Sara feat. The Lonely Island
I am very, very pleased to report that on March 19, 2014, Stranger Comics will be releasing Waso: Will To Power, Episode 1, a fantasy novella set in the fictional world of Asunda written by myself and featuring a cover illustration by Hyoung Taek Nam.
Following in the footsteps of the comic series Dusu: Path of the Ancient by Sebastian A. Jones, Christopher Garner and James Cory Webster, the impetuous son of the chief is forced to take the reins of controlling the tribe after the dramatic events in the Dusu series. The book follows his struggle to help rebuild the tribe in the face of enormous odds in a tale set against the lush junglescape of Asunda’s untamed Ugoma region.
As a writer, it was a wonderful challenge workong inside the fictional framework of Asunda’s rich culture, with its striking linguistic differences and exotic flora and fauna (some of which I got to help create). Working with my editor Josh Cozine and Asunda’s creator Sebastian Jones has been a delight, a thorough education in world building and narrative experimentation.
Waso: Will To Power is a novella divided into six parts (most of which is already written) and will be released at the middle of each month for an affordable price of … wait, what? This can’t be right. Let’s read that again …
… nope, that’s correct. The first of six installments will be FREE, and will be available through online resources like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I hope you’ll check it out and I hope you enjoy it! I’ll have flyers to promote it next week at 6PM when I’m signing copies of Artifacts #35 at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica.
The sound of breakbeats made the carpeted walls resonate, and Tonya Fitzgerald sat near the back of the curved bar, eyes closed, purse carefully tucked under her hands, swaying and smiling. She loved the sound of the drums, moving the song along as surely as a river kept a boat sliding along its channel. She risked a glance at her right wrist, and her numberless watch held its hands just past one thirty in the morning. “Looks like it’ll be another late night,” she sighed to herself, cursing another sunrise she’d probably miss.
She glanced over towards the door, and saw he was still watching. She’d seen him stumble when he saw her earlier, and immediately regretted another refusal she’d have to pull from her quiver. There was certainly nothing wrong with him — a tall, butterscotch man in a white cable-knit turtleneck, nursing a Heineken and keeping up the wall. Tonya had to be extremely careful about who basked in the light of her affection, had to keep her love locked up on a shelf. She found herself in this Adams Boulevard nightclub with the intention of hearing one of her favorite groups, Medusa and Feline Science, not romantic jousting with some heart-seeking missile.
Maybe he’d finally swallowed enough courage to make his approach, maybe he needed time to think of something. In any case, Tonya saw the decision flash across his face like the strobes that danced around the dim club, he switched his weight, and started towards her corner of the bar. Ending up in front of her, he finished his beer, set the bottle down on the napkin-littered bar, and gestured for another. As he dug out his wallet, he glanced at Tonya and smiled, saying, “Hey, girl, how you doin’?”
He eyes me for fifteen minutes, Tonya thinks to herself, and this is what he starts with? Let’s get this over with.
“I’m fine,” Tonya said demurely, waiting to see if he’d go for the cliche response.
“You sho’ is,” he offered predictably, his gaze hungry like a leopard. “I’m Jamar, good to meet you.”
Tonya groaned behind her eyes and shyly held out her hand, keeping her body language close and unreceptive.
“How you like the show so far?” Jamar asked, leaning into a pose against the bar, one Timberland boot resting on its toe.
“The sound was wack for Mystik Journeymen,” she said smoothly, predicting how many moves this would go until she declared checkmate, “and I’m really here to see Medusa.”
“Oh, word?” he asked, leaning in a bit to be heard over the DJ, as well as try and insinuate himself into her personal space. “Medusa’s tight, I like that ‘Silence’ song she got. Sound like you know little somethin’ ’bout some hip hop, huh?”
Tonya nodded, deciding that she’d take the funny tactic instead of the gentle one, because she could see Medusa’s DJ Cut Chemist on stage now, setting up. “Well, I been following Medusa on this tour for six shows now, I guess I better.”
The first glimmers of worry shone in Jamar’s eyes, but he was either committed to his course of action or buzzed, so he charged ahead. “I like a girl who knows some hip hop, that’s tight. So, you just in town to see the show, or what else you doin’ for fun?”
Tonya combed her memory for the right discarded detail, hoping it would close this conversation down before she had to get more brusque. “No, I live here — I was kickin’ it over at Different Light Bookstore in West Hollywood a few hours ago, getting a copy ofCavedweller for my girlfriend.” Tonya wondered if that was enough to send up a red flag in his mind.
Jamar looked puzzled for a moment, his eyebrows knitted underneath his crown of dreadlocks, but didn’t let it deter him. “That’s a new one on me,” he said slowly, “who’s that by?”
“Dorothy Allison,” Tonya returned, now holding the overheard memory firmly in place. “There’s so few lesbian writers out there on a national scene, and she’s probably my favorite.”
Jamar was very good, covering the flinch when she mentioned the word “lesbian,” but she read the change in his body language. He leaned back a bit and began to withdraw, sipping from his beer, and Tonya saw that her gambit was working as planned.
“That’s cool,” he said, and then reached for his waist. “Aw, uh, damn, that’s my pager.” He pulled the clearly quiescent two-way from its sheath and stared at it meaningfully. “Heh, my people are stuck outside, they need me to come hook them up. It was cool talkin’ to you …” Jamar paused, realizing he’d never gotten a name, but shook his head, unbothered by it. “Take it easy.”
With the pager in hand, still silent as he poked at it, Jamar disappeared into the crush of people just as Cut Chemist started scratching. Tonya smiled, happy to have avoided really rejecting him with only a few stray tidbits laying around her memory. As Medusa stepped on stage, Tonya sat up and smiled, ready to hear songs she had in the car, and sing along to every word.
* * *
Medusa left the stage under a cloud of applause and hollering, Tonya’s mixed in with the capacity Fais Do Do crowd. Spent and hoarse, Tonya found her bar stool unoccupied and returned to it, ordering a bottle of mineral water and leaving two singles on the bar in front of her for the bartender.
“That was really nice of you earlier,” a voice said from her left. She turned to see a six-foot, dark skinned Black man, clad in khakis and a matching vest, with an Xzibit t-shirt glaring out from beneath. Mentally, she started reaching for her quiver again when she saw his face, and audibly gasped. Her mind said, Sanu, knowing it couldn’t be, as Sanu had surely crumbled to dust in his grave years ago.
“Excuse me?” she replied after a moment, her footing unsure.
“The way you deflected that guy, Jamar?” the man continued nonchalantly. “That was tight. See, Different Light has been closed for two weeks for renovations, my editor was bitching about it all day when I turned in my voucher, since he’s jonesin’ for his special order.”
Tonya sat back and smiled. “You were sittin’ nearby …” she began.
“… and I heard the whole thing,” he finished. “Normally, sister wanna brush a cat off so she can watch the show, she’s gotta get all indignant. You were hella smooth, though. The bookstore, the bit about following Medusa around, with her ‘open sexuality’ and all. Real layered, real believable. On behalf of brothers everywhere, I gotta thank you for using such a gentle touch.”
The bartender left her water in front of her, and Tonya was caught flatfooted, her only possible response a guilty smile. This wasn’t Sanu — his voice was different, the short and immaculate afro was a long way from Sanu’s braids, and Sanu surely knew nothing of gay bookstores — but he had similar features, the same tilt of the head. If she thought he’d know far enough back, Tonya would’ve ask this man about his lineage.
“Well, I know it’s rough for Black men,” Tonya said slowly, “so I figured if he could get out of it without crackin’ his face, everybody could be happy.” A razor-thin wave of fear ran through her, knowing the dangers of letting a beautiful Black man like this talk to her.
“Just in time for the show to start. I wanted to compliment you on your method then, but if I didn’t hear ‘This Pu**y Is A Gangsta,’ I’da been hella mad.” The man sipped a glass of … it was cranberry juice, Tonya could smell no alcohol in it or on him.
“Well, that’s a real nice compliment, sir,” Tonya smiled, realizing that she was dangerously attracted to this man, “and I thank you for it.”
“Man, don’t call me ‘sir,’ though,” he cringed, “it’s bad enough I had to leave my twenties behind last year. My name’s James, James Edwards. Not that you got to give me any more love than old boy, just givin’ you more to work with. I can turn around and leave you alone, if you want.” Playing coy, he began to shift his weight towards the stage.
“No, you’re cool,” Tonya smiled, amazed at the fact she was getting gamed after so many years alone. “I’m Tonya. Glad to meet you, James.”
He shook her hand carefully, like he was handling fine china, and never let go of her eyes as he did so. “I feel like I won the lottery, not gettin’ shot down like those last three cats.”
“You saw all of that?” Tonya laughed, her hands flying to her mouth like startled crows. Jamar was just the most recent of the would-be suitors she sent packing that night. “You must think I’m some ice queen.”
“I think you a sister who was gonna see her some Medusa,” James answered wryly, “and now that you have, you’re in a much better mood. I’m the same way with Jeffrey Osborne.”
“Jeffrey Osborne,” Tonya nodded before taking a sip of her water. “That’s not a singer enough people are hip to.”
“It’s just time, you know,” James said, peering into his glass like it was a wishing well. “When I was little, he was like the Keith Sweat of the time. Ten years from now it might be Craig David. It’s all cycles.”
Despite every part of her mind telling her she couldn’t get involved with this man, or any man, Tonya fell into the rhythm of the conversation. “You a music fan?” Tonya said.
“I write about music,” James responded. “Music, news, sports … I’m a freelance journalist. Music is my favorite, though — you won’t catch me at a sports event unless I’m interviewing somebody. That’s what all those TV channels are for.”
Tonya took another sip of water, still a bit off balance. She knew the consequences of her affections, the consequences of intimacy … but it had been so long, and this was … different. A rare pleasure. If he’s hitting on me, she thought to herself, his style is interesting. No full court press … hm.
“Oh, if you don’t have anybody with you, I’ll walk you to your car when you’re done,” James offered, raising his glass, not looking at her. “Crazy world, and all that.”
Tonya dodged instinctively, habit kicking in. “I’m in the valet, I think I’ll be OK.”
“Oh, it’s all good, no big deal,” James shrugged, his finger tracing the edge of his glass. “I was just trying to act right. I was at a poetry reading and this guy was telling a sister he had to make sure he got her to her car, or they’d kick him outta the Southerner’s Union. My folks got a kick out of that, since they’re from the South, and it stuck in my head, so I try to make sure sisters get where they’re going safely, you know?”
A satiny wave of attraction washed over Tonya, but she fought it down. “Thoughtful, cultured — you’re just a regular renaissance man, ain’t you?” She figured his ego would lead him to tasteless boasting. She hoped. This felt too good, too right.
James smiled, a wide and engaging grin showcasing white teeth that threw her defenses into a tailspin. He affected a gruff voice and said, “I’m just a simple man trying to make his way in the universe,” referencing the Star Wars movie. Then, with a mischievous grin, he added, “Thought you knew!”
Tonya giggled, and immediately thought to herself, I just giggled like a sorority girl. Why is he workin’ me?
“I’m messin’ around,” James said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “For real … you mind if I ask you about, you know, you?”
Tonya was surprised to hear herself say, “Not at all, my life is an open book.”
“When’s your birthday?”
Tonya managed not to hesitate, remembering the answer for this one. “September 4th.”
“Virgo, okay. Not prone to acts of psychotic rage, good to know. What do you do for a living?”
“Actually, I’m an art buyer for a small gallery,” Tonya said smoothly, this answer more familiar due to its veracity.
“Check you out!” James said appreciatively. “Art buyer! If you think I got culture, I must not be all bad. Hmph!”
Tonya laughed, an honest, open laugh that she felt down in her stomach. James’ expression at the irony caught hold of her loneliness and spun it around.
“I just wanna get the basics out of the way,” James said calmly, “since I guess you know I’m warming up to ask you out. I wanna find out in advance if you’re some unemployed nutcase that’s gonna be a bunch of drama. So far, so good. Oh, it’s okay to turn me down, I’ll still walk you to your car, don’t worry about that part.”
“Where did you come from?” Tonya asked softly. “You all upfront with your game!”
“You wouldn’t believe how many people ask me that. I’m from here. I grew up in LA, but almost nobody believes me. Went to Dorsey High, practically grew up at World on Wheels, the whole nine. Oh, and I don’t play games.”
“I guess not. I’da never took you for a brother from LA. So, I’m a Virgo, you must be … what, a …”
“Aquarius. January 30th. Freelance writer, but I do okay, my bills are paid. Photographer, wannabe graphic artist. Graduated from Howard with a Journalism degree. Thirty-one. B negative blood type. My resume is online at www.jamesfedwards.com.”
Tonya noticed she was leaning towards him, open as hell to his advances, unable to help herself somehow. “That won’t be necessary, I think you’re cool. If you wanna go out, that’s cool. You got a card?”
James patted his vest and dug around in the pocket before pulling out a worn black leather wallet, in which he filed around for a moment before pulling out a business card with a stylized photo of him, a name, and a phone number.
Looking at the logo she said, “Nice,” actually happy to have a piece of evidence of how closely he resembled Sanu.
“That took me forever to learn how to do that in Photoshop. Then a dude at the Weekly showed me this shareware that did it in like five minutes. Worked my nerves … sorry, techie talk.”
“You’re cool,” Tonya said again, sliding the card into her purse. Grabbing her water, she stood. “Come walk me to my car? I’m gonna be sleepy as hell tomorrow.”
James rose and replied, “It’s already tomorrow, but you know. Let’s rock.”
The made their way out the side door and walked towards Adams. Tonya quickly produced her claim ticket and the valet darted off down the street. “Where’d you park?” she asked.
“Actually, my cousin Dave lives a block from here. I parked at his house. His wife made me promise not to come back all loud and wake the baby.”
Tonya nodded, strangely nervous. “I really liked meeting you, James. Um … do you know about that Freestyle Fellowship show in Inglewood on Saturday?”
“The one at the Main Event?” James asked. “Yeah, my man J-Smoov already put me on the list. I can get plus one if you wanna go.”
Tonya’s brain reeled at the idea she was actually into this guy. “That’d be cool. Maybe catch dinner before that?”
He nodded, glancing down slightly, his brain working at the logistics. “Yeah, I know a little soul food place on Century that’ll be open. You’ll call me, right?”
Tonya bit her lip, then said, “Uh, I can give you my number. That way we both owe the other one a call.” Tonya dug out a scrap of paper and a pen, scribbled her number on it, and nervously handed it to James, just as the valet brought up her car. He accepted it gingerly, a slight smile crinkling the corners of his lips, as she climbed into her silver Chevy Malibu. She rolled down the window and waved, a gesture James returned, watching her pull onto Adams and off into the night.
As she made her way west, Tonya shuddered. “I can’t remember the last time I was attracted to somebody,” she thought to herself as she turned on the stereo, a Fela CD on track three. “I have to be careful, I can’t get caught up in him.” As the lights passed by her window, she told herself, “I’ll give him the brush off on the phone. End of story.”
* * *
Tonya stood at the front of the storefront Indian restaurant, looking up and down Melrose. She pulled her gauzy wrap around her, more out of nervousness than any sense of chill in the balmy early evening. She looked down at herself — her mango colored skirt brushing the bottom half of her knee, her favorite white turtleneck clinging in all the right places, and wondered why the story wasn’t over yet.
James pulled up in his gray Volvo — which was still a good car, though it had seen better days — and hit his hazards. Before she could get to the passenger door, he’d rushed out, forcing a Trans Am to swerve and honk angrily, and come over to open her door. Smiling, she took his hand and let him guide her into the car, closing the door behind her.
A few moments and another honking horn blast or two and they were on their way west down Melrose towards the Beverly Center. Tonya nervously fidgeted in her seat as James tuned the radio into KJLH for some soothing sounds.
“I wasn’t too long, getting the car, was I?” James asked, smiling eagerly at her. Tonya felt something inside melting under his sweet attention, and shook her head.
“You were only gone a couple of minutes,” she said quietly. “Besides, after what the valet did to my clutch last time, you were probably right to do it this way.”
James grinned as he leaned back in the black leather seat. “Well, I figured that you’ve been nice enough to go out with me three times already, and you don’t seem like you wanna kick me to the curb, plus you totally vibed on the chicken jalfrezi … what’s a little sacrifice on my behalf?”
Tonya nodded, staring at her hands.
James let a moment pass, with Luther testifying to how amazing it is to be loved, and then asked, ” You’re not gonna kick me to the curb, are you?”
Tonya looked up quizzically.
“It’s just that … I mean, we’ve had so much fun — the picnic last week, where you hit me in the head with the frisbee three times, you know. I thought we were connecting. Tonight, you’ve just been kind of … quiet.”
Tonya licked her lips to gain a moment to deliberate. “You’re right, and I’m sorry,” she offered. “I’m not gonna ‘kick you to the curb’ or anything. I’m quiet because I really, really like you … even after I made you watch that horrible House of Yes movie, you’re still a lot of fun and really nice and so handsome …”
“I’m sensing a disturbing conjunction slipping up on me,” James said, more worried than joking.
Tonya considered her next statement carefully. “You’re the first guy I’ve dated … well, in a long time. I’m just … scared. This is going so well, and it makes me nervous.”
James pondered this, his eyes on traffic, rubbing his goatee thoughtfully. “Lemme get this straight,” he began slowly. “You like me, which makes me so happy to hear, we get along, we have fun, we can overcome even a movie as terrible as The House of Yes, and you’re freaking out … because you’re happy?”
Tonya’s eyes connected with his, an electric tingle going through her as she caught the gaze of his deep brown eyes, and nodded.
The car was quiet for a moment, and then James stifled a chuckle. The chuckle, however, was awfully determined and charged out of his mouth as a full-fledged laugh.
“What … don’t laugh at me!” Tonya half-heartedly protested, starting to chuckle herself. “I’m opening myself up here! Come on!”
James’ hilarity managed to settle down to smirking amusement as he returned, “You gotta admit, that sounds pretty goofy. ‘Oh, being happy makes me nervous!’ C’mon, dawg, admit it.”
Tonya smiled sheepishly, looked away and nodded.
“You’re totally feelin’ me, aren’t you?” James grinned.
Tonya’s smile widened, and she nodded again.
“All it took was a little of the ol’ Edwards magic,” James said smugly, tugging on the collar of his tan blazer. “And a head that’s highly resistant to impact.”
Tonya burst into laughter, and James joined her, both enjoying the time and the company and the banter. Wiping her eyes, Tonya started to settle down and just turned to watch his profile.
James noticed her and smiled, patting her knee.
Tonya thought to herself, I can’t believe I’m feeling this way. Spirit, please, don’t let this go wrong.
“Whatcha thinkin’?” James asked.
Tonya smiled demurely and looked down to her lap. “Nothing,” she answered. “Just happy to be here.”
* * *
James woke slowly, aware of a pleasant amount of warmth in front of him, and the covers being in a more chaotic fashion than he was used to. He opened his eyes slowly, and saw the shell of black braids on the pillow next to him. He could make out the alarm clock on the nightstand — 4:17 AM — and realized he’d only been asleep a couple of hours, so happy with just being near Tonya he felt lighter than air. Four months he’d been dating the cagey vixen, first just running the normal plays and looking for the end zone. After the first three weeks, he found himself staring out the window and daydreaming about her when he was in the middle of transcribing an interview, or finding her name typed randomly through copy as he ran the spellcheck. The way she talked about politics, how good it felt chuckling at Seinfeldwith her on the couch — everything was interesting and alive when they were together. When she accepted his invitation for the family’s Labor Day barbecue, his father Pete joked that James looked ready to hang up his jersey at the Forum.
He pulled Tonya close, hearing her sigh contentedly, and thought about the evening. Picked her up for dinner at Roscoe’s at 8:30, just because she found it so funny when the waitress called “Mama” bent his ear for leaving his elbows on the table. One of the Lakers was having a birthday party at the Century Club, and one of James’ endless list of friends at record labels had dropped a pair of passes into his lap, so they danced for hours in the decadent nightspot. After the Century Club turned out its patrons, James playfully suggested a nightcap at home, and was really surprised when she agreed to it. One Amaretto sour later they were dueling with tongues on his leather couch as Maxwell crooned, “… you shouldn’t know these things … about me-ee …”
Grinning, he thought about the experience they’d shared that night. Other than making out, he’d not made any attempts to make it past second base with Tonya, telling her that it was her decision, and he’d respect it, he just wanted to be with her. The way she tasted, the smooth fluidity of her curves moving against his hands, his chest, his thighs. She was very vocal and very appreciative, so he had to guess that she was happy with his performance as well. Worth the wait, he thought to himself.
James frowned as he felt the Coronas and the Amaretto pushing against the side of his bladder. Carefully, he eased his arm from under Tonya’s neck, brushing kisses across her shoulder to quiet her groan of displeasure. A quick visit to the bathroom later, he smiled as he came out and saw her sleeping there, curled up and serene. Delight washed across him like a high tide, and he felt like his feet weren’t even touching the ground.
He made his way out to the living room to tidy up some, and as he picked up the glasses from the coffee table, he noticed sleepily, Do I always have to bend over this far to … ah whatever. In the kitchen, he carefully placed the glasses in the sink, and then frowned at the window. There’s dust on the top sill of this window! I gotta get a cloth and … hang on a second … how can I see the top sill? I’m only 5’11″!
James looked down, and saw his feet hovering easily a foot above the floor. He remained that way for a while, neck slanted and eyes staring downward, as if trying to force his brain to reconcile the completely impossible thing his eyes were trying to relay. His mouth hung open in dull surprise, and a droplet of saliva made its way free and succumbed to gravity, falling past his feet on the way to the floor. Finally, out of options and unable to figure this out in any way, James’ brain threw in the towel and allowed him to faint, his entire body finally surrendering to gravity’s very patient embrace.
When the heavy thud of James hitting the kitchen floor shook the bed, Tonya leapt into consciousness, sitting up in bed suddenly. “Shit,” she muttered, “this is gonna take some explaining.”