"It was all a dream!" I grew up on the death of gangster rap, rock and roll suicide heros,
At age 17 I can't say exactly where I got the idea about going to New York and being a bike-riding writer, but it had to have been TV. The Ninja Turtles maybe? I grew up all through the 90's, so tv and movies was our outside world in a small town. Part of this New York idea was that I'd be dodging car doors as I cruised down busy streets and would inevitably catch a few along the way. I grew up in a town of now 6001 (I know, the 1 is comical to me, too), and riding bikes there, which I did all through my youth, just didn't present the same kind of obstacles. There was a mystique that drew me to this New York idea though. That was what I thought I wanted to do. Well that was just an idea. I had verbalized it during my junior year of high school, saying then that I wanted to be a "photojournalist," never actually looking up what exactly that meant, but I took it to be someone who takes photos and tells stories, or perhaps takes photos that tell stories. It was 2004 when I graduated in Trenton, Missouri, and it was May (graduation season) 2017 that I finally touched down at La Guardia Airport. I'm so glad that I waited until 2017... There's 3 main intrinsic values that this trip cemented in my understanding. They'll make most sense after all the story telling, so find them later in the entry.
I'm being forced to look at myself, presently and previously, to write this entry. Who I was then.. at 17 I was almost 10 years into a life of depression and and habitually contemplating my mortality.. The closest thing I had to a father was behind the sound waves of my boombox, mostly rap. I'm not one of those white people who doesn't like "white music," I love country music to this day and sing it well. I like some genres of rock, on over to the blues and R & B. I'm listening to Sade radio on Pandora right now. As a youth and as an adult, rap and hip hop music was just there for me more than any other.
I've been speaking "on the record" for years now via social media. I'm trying to save more gems for the blog.. So here's a BIG one for the record. If I would have maintained a love affair with rock music instead of rap music, I would have stayed in love with my depression rather than falling in love with a spirit of overcoming adversity and celebrating my victories. That is what hip hop - what I came to understand rap to be from - was to me. I was going through puberty when Pac got killed. I was on All Eyez on Me and Me Against the World. After his death I came up on Makaveli through a friend who later over-dosed at 20 years old. Tupac and Biggie were both Wal Mart - bought posters on my wall, hanging with the double-sided thick tape so they would always be presented properly. I knew every word to "I'll Be Missin' You" before I even knew who Biggie really was, or knowing the pinnacle of possibility that he represented to Brooklyn and the marginalized around the country. And Tupac.. he represented how it was okay to be a man with emotional honesty. It was Tupac's poetic tone that I found solace in, and the gangster side suited my angst well. Now here I am at 31, in the home of hip hop. I've got one hat on my head, and two hanging off my carry on backpack, all with my website embroidered fresh across the front. I''ve got a wide portfolio online, I've got life experience, a few splashes of wisdom, a college degree and a half I need to apply for back in Kansas City, an early 20's military background, a young son to make proud, and a much better understanding of how to move in a big world that'lI take your cookies if you leave the jar unattended. I was about to drop my first mixtape recently until my laptop with all the content was stolen while on a photo shoot in Plano, Texas earlier this year (I left my jar unattended).
I don't know a better way to bounce back from that but to go to New York and see it for myself. This place I used to imagine, with it's rhythm that's been beating since way back. I stayed over via Airbnb in the Bronx, rode the 5 train plenty, and hardly touched a thing on my "to see" list. I knew I wouldn't, but I had a lot of ideas and options noted. I took my time and went with the flow, and every step of the way spoke to some part of my soul.
I don't know how well I would have fared if I would have touched down there at 17. The depression I mentioned a couple paragraphs up.. New York appealed to my fantasy back then in a way of achieving a certain anonymity, a way to disappear and just live. That part may have been fine for me, as I've done essentially the same in Kansas City since 2009.. It was my naivety that may have spoiled my transition. I had a huge heart that I would have called a liberal one. I hadn't even come to the point of researching the costs of living, so it was all an idea that I think has evolved just fine. In another life, I'd love to call New York my home. Maybe it could be this lifetime for a spell, but time will tell that. Kansas City would be by New York over the years. My place to explore myself in the mix of an urban core, and be able to afford my fuck ups.
That mystique I mentioned in the opening paragraph.. I think, with years passing by I was able to see the hip hop in the rap music. In my little hometown hip hop wasn't a term you heard. Letting this time pass gave me a greater appreciation for the culture of New York City and of hip hop itself that I wouldn't have had before. I had the rare experience of attending a 40th Anniversary of the Disco show at Lehman College called Hip Hop Fever. It was hosted and promoted by Sal Abbatiello and featured the remaining Lost Boyz members, Black Rob, Rakim, Melle Mel Peter Gunz and more. To be in an auditorium surrounded by OGs and my fellow 30 sum'n year old crowd, in the midst of so much Adidas, in such strong vibrations of hip hop and love is an experience I'm glad I wasn't allowed to have my camera for. It was pure. It took me back to those early teens years trying to find myself and a sense of belonging. It was the spirit of everything I was looking for when I was a kid looking up at Biggie and Pac [and Kurt Cobain] on my wall. It was the dream of just being happy and enjoying the sounds that spoke to my bones. That shit was hip hop!
I said earlier that I hardly touched my "to see list." Of everything noted, I journeyed to the most important on my first full day in town. My friend Sung and I took the 5 train down to Harlem where we hopped off and made our way to the church site of Malcolm X's eulogy. I say church, yes, not a mosque.
For those familiar with Malcolm's story from front to back (the Autobiography of Malcolm X), his welcome from his religious family was void at the time of his death, hence, how a Muslim man's service would be ultimately hosted by a church.
What's my concern with Malcolm? I was gifted his book when I was 19 (2005), read the first chapter soon after, closed the book because I didn't feel like I was "there in life," and finally re-opened it in summer 2009 (this is a very shortened version of my logic and timing I chose to read the book). I have blue eyes and an Irish red-blond hair tone. It was a painful read, a necessary one, and a healing one. I was laying there on my downtown studio pallet in the heat of the KC summer journeying to Mecca with him after all of his establishment of Islam back here in America. I grew with him, and I learned more of my position in a society with a dark history. I was 23 years old and had just recently realized I was of Irish descent, a landmark in my own self identity, being a product of a fragmented family and illegitimate last name. As far as spirit and approach, I first wrote in a poem that "I'm more Malcolm than Martin," and later in a rap "Malcolm X of the day, not so MLK, Tupac Shakur for sure, I'm prayin' for better days." What Tupac was to me in my teen years, Malcolm was to me as a man. Essentially a father-like figure or grandfather, a spiritual and intellectual inspiration. As I'm sure you noted in the images above, the church is coming down. When we first arrived on the block (145th and Amsterdam) there was no signage, so we hope we were at the wrong place (again). I knocked on a door right next to the church and before I could finish asking, "Is this here the church where Malc....?" I could see a remorseful "yes" in the lady's eyes. If I were soliciting interviews and she were willing, there would have been so much to say. First off, I'm stricken still by the fact that it's a church rather a mosque, and naturally so by the fact that it's coming down. As Sung and I left on the bus I checked in on Facebook, stirring my already heightened emotions, and as soon as we hopped off the bus at 125th and Amsterdam I was a cryin' ass mess. Standing on that corner at 4 pm in Harlem crying my eyes out from behind my sunglasses on my first full day in New York has to be one of the most cathartic experiences of my life, young and old. I finally got it together and met my new weed man across the corner. Time.to.smoke. I'd find myself in a Whole Foods bathroom on 42nd Street rolling a joint an hour later before we journeyed back Uptown for the night.
I did take the train all the way from the north Bronx to the Brooklyn Bridge stop on a drizzly Sunday, speaking of Christoper Wallace. As I walked towards the bridge I stopped to talked to an old Asian photo vendor. Whether he gassed me up or not, our conversation turned into all about me and concluded in him telling me that I "could become President." I laughed, immediately thinking about my modest-but-crippling criminal record. He says, " I mean it. I can see it in you. In your eyes. Be confident." I had just contemplated hard on confidence that morning leading up to this singular moment. Sadly, Brooklyn on the other side of the Bridge (DUMBO, BK Heights, etc) is so gentrified that I felt like I wasn't in Brooklyn at all, with the exception of the brownstones and literal geography. Next time I'm in town I have to see a lot more of Brooklyn!
I could keep going but I think I can save other tangents for other entries, and I think I've found my ultimate purpose for reaching towards New York and for writing a blog piece about it. So let me conclude.. To seek a place of anonymity, New York really made me think about how important it is to have someone to lean on, to have and to hold when you come home. It's a city that will pass you by. I learned quickly to have my business card at the ready in my pocket because in the time I look down to check my phone I can look up and another beauty queen walked by. Yes, you can be anonymous here, if that's what you want to be. At the same time, it reminded more of the importance of having love present in your life and being able to share your world.
Lessons for life.. these 3 things were the triangle of truth that I brought home to Kansas City with me. Always be confident, humble, and brave.
Day to day life in New York:
It's not easy to navigate, so check your routes and move with confidence or you'll never get anywhere. If you can tackle New York, I think you can be on your way anywhere, with confidence..
Likely you're going to end up using some mode of public transportation, so get over yourself, mind your space respectfully, and wait for your stop. If someone is paying you noticeable attention in NYC, take notice. If not, they don't know you exist. Humility and ego check... you're just a face on the trail.
Don't be afraid of the world.. it's a big place, yes, but it can be navigated smartly, especially in this day and time. Movies always made New York seem so scary, but you'll find much of the fear is only in your mind and misconceptions.
I hope this blog entry finds you at a good place in life. I hope you're traveling and continuing to expand your life experiences. I hope you're setting goals and meeting them, no matter how long it takes. I hope you're still pursuing your dreams and finding better ways to face your depressions. I hope you're facing fear and shrugging off doubts, while walking in confidence and embracing humility. Time is of the essence, just like a New York minute. #MDP