about me
Part 8: Building Character

Did I ever tell you about the time that I didn’t shit for an entire week?
Well it’s true. I didn’t. And I didn’t do it out of protest. I did it for peace of mind.
Let me explain.
My parents called me into the living room one evening. They had a piece of paper from school in their hands that I knew I hadn’t given to them. I knew I hadn’t given it to them because I knew what was on it. I recognized it.
It was a letter from my school, on official letter head, informing them that the school was planning on sending the entire eighth grade class to some camp for the week and if you wanted your kid to go, they had to come back to school with that piece of paper signed.
That’s why I hadn’t given it to them.
Well my parents sat me down directly across from them and asked me point blank, “Did you want to go?”
Wow. How was this for an unexpected surprise? They were actually asking me what I wanted.
Wow.
I sat there for a second just basking in the moment. They were actually waiting for me to give my answer. They cared what I thought? I acted like I pondered about it for a second or two and then widened my eyes as if I had settled on a decision after many seconds of wrestling with the various pros and cons and the far reaching consequences, some of which I couldn’t possibly predict would be place in my path, as a result of making my decision.
”No.” I said and smiled. “Thanks for asking.”
I stood up to go back upstairs to my room to finish whatever comic book script I was writing at the time.
”Too bad, you’re going anyway.” I heard my father say behind me.
I froze right where I stood.
”Huh?”
”I said, that’s too bad. You’re going anyway.” My father repeated himself. He didn’t like doing that.
I was still in denial. I almost asked him to repeat himself again but this time my mother jumped in.
”We think it would be good for you. It will be a nice experience.” She reasoned.
”So you guys talked about this ahead of time? Why did you even bother to ask me what I wanted if you were just going to tell me that I had to go anyway? I mean, what was the point of that?” I asked.
”We were hoping that you would say that you wanted to go.” My father said in that “Oh well, that sucks for you” tone I knew oh so well.
He was serious. There was no humor in his eyes. He didn’t even look like he was prepared to discuss this one.
This was not going to be an issue that he was going to let me try to debate my way out of.
”What kind of sense does that make?” I thought to myself.
Of course I didn’t say that to him.
Half of the conversations I had with my parents before I turned 30 years old happened inside of my head. I am not even sure if I had coherent conversations aloud with my parents because half of what I said in my head would’ve been grounds for them choking my to death had they slipped out of my mouth.
My parents rarely if ever heard me curse.
And it wasn’t like I even had to consciously work at not cursing. Subconsciously a switch would flip in my head and suddenly “damn” became “dang” and “shit” became “shoot” and “what the fuck?” became “huh?”
Hell, my father had a whole list of things that you couldn’t say besides the more universally recognized curse words.
One of the words on that list was the word "lie".
He told us that the word “lie” was a curse word. You couldn’t say, “Man, he is lying.” You had to say, “Man, he is telling a story.”
That was so frustrating growing up. Words cannot articulate how frustrating it was not being able to just call a spade a spade.
This isn’t building character not being able to speak your mind. Struggling to find words to say what you wanted to say wasn’t laying down the ground work to being a man of character.
That was laying down the ground work for hyper tension.
Telling a story is not fucking lying.
At least if you are going to insist that we can’t say the word “lie” find a word that is at least close.
Let me say, “He’s misrepresenting me!” or something.
No, I had to say “story”.
What was funny was that grandma cursed all the time. His mother. That is why he never did it. It used to embarrass him when she did it when he was a kid, so now he took it to the other extreme and as a result when things got heated we practically couldn’t even converse.
No wonder I am so good at talking to myself. That is where half of my conversations took place.
We couldn’t listen to music or watch television until after noon on Sundays unless it had something to do with Jesus.
We had to be out of the bed by 10:00 am on the weekends no exceptions.
You’d think he grew up in one of those tough love boot camps that Sally Jesse Raphael would send juvenile delinquents to on her show when they got to be too much for their parents to handle.
With my parents you were treading on thin ice even allowing them to get the “feeling” that you were upset with them. They didn’t believe in any of that “freedom of expression” shit.
You were a kid. You hadn’t earned enough stripes yet to express yourself.
They didn’t want to see anger on your face, in your posture, even in how you walked after they got you upset.
In fact, when they knew you were pissed off, it was like they would watch you even more carefully to see if they could pick up on any rankling in you.
Well because of that, I cried a lot when I was frustrated because that was like the only thing that I was pretty sure they would allow me to do.
Crying when I was angry was like trying to draw a picture of a house on a sunny day with clouds, green grass and bright yellow sun, but all you have to draw with is a brown crayon.
The sky is blue, clouds are white, grass is green and the sun is yellow. I need more than what you are giving me.
It would take me years to get out of that habit of crying when I was angry. Nowadays I rarely cry unless I am really touched or moved by something. Usually a cry for me is a good thing. It is a release of some overwhelmingly positive emotion.
Back then, I would cry over not being able to get out of going to camp because my parents had decided that cleaning up horse shit and sleeping in a log cabin for a week would be character building.
”It’s only going to be a week. You act like we are sending you off to live there forever.” That was my mom reasoning with me again.
That’s not the point. The point was that you asked me whether or not I wanted to go, and you weren’t really giving me a choice. Had I said, “Sure I want to go” you were going content to let me go on believing that I made a choice.
That’s fucked up.
See this was how the Gestapo operated in my house.
Still fresh in my mind was a little something my father had done just a few months earlier with this gigantic Malcolm X poster he had dug up from wherever he kept the crap he kept from militant his college days.
Apparently my father thought I was acting “too white”. He had grown up a cotton picking, barefoot walking slave in Wyatt, Missouri who had emancipated himself to a housing project in Inkster, Michigan nicknamed Little Saigon.
I’m not sure but I don’t think it was called “Little Saigon” because it was home to a rather large Vietnamese-American population.
Me, on the other hand, was being raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan I didn’t know shit about poverty, cotton picking, walking barefoot or large populations of transplanted Vietnamese. I lived in the apotheosis of diversity. I had friends that were black, white, Asian, you name it.
And I wasn’t unique. So did everyone I knew.
To this day I feel uncomfortable in any homogeneous crowd. I feel just as displaced as the only black dude in a crowd of 1,000 white people as I would in a crowd of 1,000 black people.
I would being looking around me like, “where is everybody?”
Well I am not sure what I did or said that made my father feel like he had to make his move, but whatever it was must’ve been breaking the last straw as far was he was concerned.
I came home one afternoon to find this 5 foot black-n-white poster on my wall of this angry looking black dude screaming into a microphone pointing at something.
It was positioned right in the center of my wall, right above my bed in full view of anyone who could look up into my bedroom window.
The neighbors across the courtyard from us actually came over and asked us if we would consider taking it down because they felt a little uneasy staring up at this angry black dude pointing at them every time they sat down to dinner.
Their request was respectfully denied.
“What the fuck is this?” I said in my head.
“Dad, why is there a poster of some angry man pointing at something on my wall?” is what I actually said aloud.
I told you, it was like thinking in Spanish and talking in English.
My dad came up the stairs with a slight grin on his face. “That is Malcolm X, ever heard of him?” He asked.
”Yeah, he is that racist dude that was an enemy of Martin Luther King. He hated white people or something, right?”
”Nope.”
”Personally I don't give a damn, what the fuck is he doing on my wall?"
That’s what I said in my head.
”Well who is he? And why is he on my wall dad?” is what I actually said.
”Well, I think you need to find out who he is,” was my dad’s response.
To make a long story short the more I complained, the more he became convinced that he had done the right thing by putting this poster up on my bedroom wall.
The protest that sealed the deal was when I brought up the concern that my best friend Thomas, who was white, might not want to come over my place anymore with this poster on my wall.
”Well if he doesn't come over anymore then I guess he isn’t really your friend then is he?” was his answer to that.
Well not necessarily. Had I walked into Thomas’s bedroom to find some poster of some white guy that was famous for insisting that black people were genetically inferior monkey spawn, created in some laboratory thousands of years ago by some mad scientist and was all about using violence if need be to establish an all white colony some place just to be to themselves, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable over there at his place anymore either.
Would you blame me?
I think that would be natural.
In fact, had their been someone white militant that was comparable to Malcolm X on Thomas’s bedroom wall, my father definitely wouldn’t let me go back over to his house. If Thomas had a racist on his wall Thomas would be a racist.
If my father does it, then he is building character in me.
Well I cried that day too.
My father must’ve thought I was the biggest pussy of a son he could have ever had.
And for the record, Thomas did come over and as soon as he saw that poster he did say “what the fuck is that?” and I tried my best to explain my father’s reasoning but it still didn’t make any sense to me.
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, British philosopher, mathematician, social critic, and writer wrote once that “A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”
Well this was my take on my father’s reasoning.
”My dad thinks that by putting a racist on my wall who advocated the killing of white people, this is going to be character building someday. He said I can take it down once I read his autobiography and internalize his message of hate.”
What my father had actually told me was that I could take the poster down the second that I finished reading Malcolm’s autobiography and could accurately tell him who Malcolm was and what he stood for.
But I had a better idea. I would just wait him out. My parents were notorious for not following up. They felt once they said something that was the law and that it would be obeyed just because they said it.
Yeah right. My parents were like the American public, when something happens it is a hot topic in the news for the next few weeks, but eventually it becomes old and we move on to something else. Well my parents were no different. Sure this Malcolm X thing was hot on his mind right now, but it wouldn’t be in a month or two and anytime after that he probably wouldn’t even notice if I took it down.
I just needed to be patient.
But in the meantime I had to figure some things out.
Well fast forward a few months and now here I am sitting in the living room crying again trying to figure out what I can say to persuade them into excusing me from going along on this school trip.
”There is nothing else to discuss. You are going. Deal with it.” That was the gist of that very short conversation.
Well to make a long story short I ended up going to camp. I remembered my mother insisting, “you’ll thank us one day for this,” while she was putting my clothes and supplies in my bag.
”Bullshit.” I thought.
To this very day I have never thanked them for sending me off to camp. And to be honest with you, I don’t see a thank you coming from me anytime in the future. It has been almost 20 years since they sent me to camp and I still haven’t found in me anything that I can’t point to and say I am better for as a direct result of freezing my ass off for that week, sleeping in a cabin on a musty one inch thick mattress on cot bunk bed, and walking through horse shit to get to and from anywhere I wanted to go and holding my shit inside for a week.
Oh yeah that was the point wasn’t it.
Yeah, I held my shit for an entire week when I went to camp.
I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, for five straight days and never once took a dump.
Why?
Well because to have us “build character” we were responsible for cleaning up the bathrooms if we messed them up. Well of course we are going to mess them up we are kids.
Why am I going to put my ass on a 1) a public toilet, 2) a public toilet that has been cleaned by 13-year-olds who couldn’t give a damn whether or not they were actually doing a good job cleaning it, and lastly, a public toilet that was damn near outside? They had a completely separate building with all the toilets in it. I mean there were flies flying around in that place.
It was camp. It wasn’t the camp’s fault. They had animals at camp.
I didn’t have flies in the bathroom at my house. My parents cleaned the bathroom thoroughly every week. I never had to worry about catching herpes, hepatitis or warts from my bathroom at home. We didn’t have roaches, flies, or animals of any kind walking around in my bathroom at home.
My father wouldn't even let us have a goldfish.
Kids were standing on the sides of the toilet, trying to position their asses just right over to the hole and just dropping turds into the bowl. Well if they hit their mark they were landing in the bowl.
If they didn’t, they didn’t.
I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t have put my ass on that toilet either. And I didn’t.
I was cool too. I was holding it in like a trooper until the ride home. It was like a 2 hour bus ride home and all of those bumps were just working that movement through me.
Before long it was like that school bus ride was giving me gas I had to shit so bad.
By the time I got back to the school I was about to explode. Luckily, I only lived about 300 yards from the school.
301 yards and I would have shit myself. I have no doubt of that.
Running home terrified to even fart, I got home dropped my bag right at the front door and ran up the stairs to the good bathroom with the cushion seat.
I was going to be awhile. I might as well be comfortable, yeah know?
Well no sooner than I got my pants around my ankles and my butt on the pot my mother called me, Nkrumah!!!!!!
”Mom I will be there in a second.” I pleaded.
”Nkrumah!!!” She shouted again.
”MOOOOOOOMMMM give me a second,” I shouted back. Is she deaf? I thought to myself.
NKRUMAH SHABAZZ STEWARD!!!
I guess not.
Ok, she is saying my full name. That was serious. I got up off the can pulled my pants up dragged myself down the stairs.
”What the fuck ma? I’ve got to take a shit. I have been holding this in for a week?” I said to myself.
”Mom, please, what do you want me to do?” I asked.
”Pick up your bag from in front of the door. Take it upstairs and put your clothes back in your dresser where they belong or put them in the dirty clothes hamper if they are dirty.”
”Ok, ma.”
”Did you enjoy your trip?” she asked with a smile anticipating the “thank you” she insisted that I would give her.
”Uh, not exactly. One of the kids in our school got fucking molested by one the camp counselors that apparently cornered him in a cabin while the rest of us where cracking the ice beneath our feet walking across a supposedly “frozen lake” to go sledding on the other side. “Rick, the gay camp counselor” fled the camp once he heard that the authorities were looking for him, sped away in his car but didn’t get too far because it was in the middle of a blizzard at the time. He slid off the road and into a ditch trying to get away. When he couldn’t get out of the car to run he tried to kill himself by stabbing himself repeatedly in the neck with a ballpoint pen he found in his glove compartment while he sat in the front seat waiting on the cops to get to him. I am still not sure if I am going to need professional help for myself, but thanks for asking. Plus, I haven’t taken a shit since the day that I left for that god forsaken place, and if you don’t let me get back to that toilet I am going to make a mess right here at the bottom of the steps.”
Once again that’s what I said in my head.
”I’ll tell you about it later mom OK? Right now I really need to go to the bathroom.” I said in the most polite tone I could muster.
She bought it and let me run back upstairs.
Had she insisted that I stood there and tell her all about the trip right then and there I would’ve probably cried.

same difference

Part 1: What’s in a name anyway?
Today black folks just make up African sounding names by just changing vowels like they think nobody notices. No, back then if you were going to name your kid something African then it better be in the book.

Part 2: Learning The Rules
“...light-skinned black people usually end up marrying dark-skinned black people and vice versa. Since you are dark-skinned Nkrumah you will probably end up with a light-skinned woman.”
I tried my best to look interested. I really did.

Part 3: My Father
His friends didn’t have names. They had code names.
My father even he had a few nicknames of his own. I had a choice, I could call him Gene, Eugene, Dad, Dap, Father, King Gene or “King Gene Dap Daddy Supreme”. The answered to all of them.

Part 4: White People
I'm jumping a little ahead of myself here but I think this subject should be covered before I go any further.

Part 5: Jimmy the Terrible
There was a price to pay for spending that much time around a kid without mature parental supervision. This cannot be understated.

Part 6: lasting impressions
I said in chapter one, in the first paragraph I believe, that my parents were young, and if you'd keep that in mind it will explain a lot about my life.
Did you think I was kidding?

Part 7: What are the odds?
Now I know that life doesn’t end in middle school. Back then I wasn’t so sure.


Source: MY LIFE

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