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Mark's Hospital, Rehab, Home & Recovery Chronicles


On May 11, 2015, Mark Clayton Southers was seriously injured in a car accident. These chronicles document his recovery. Entries marked have previously appeared on Facebook; the rest are published here for the first time.

Introduction

Hello and welcome to The Chronicles.

This page holds the collection of my total Chronicles. Let me say this. I'm an artist. This page is dedicated to my journals as I recover and heal from my auto accident. These chronicles listed here include edgy ones which were not posted on Facebook due to their raw and frank nature. As I said earlier, I'm an artist.

That being said, I want to share with folks my honest and frank stories about the reality of recovery, and the things that I witness, from a first-hand account. Some folks may feel uncomfortable reading some of these. But the reason why I'm able to express myself in such an engaging way is because of my bold attempt to be truthful in my recollections.

A few people have voiced to me their disdain about some of these chronicles, some without even reading them thoroughly. Hey, I'm well aware that I'm not going to please everyone, but the truth of the matter is, I'm not out to please anyone. These chronicles have personally been very therapeutic for me.

I should mention however that I've also been told from friends and strangers via Facebook replies, in boxed messages, text, emails, phone calls and in person that they have been inspired, uplifted and freed of guilt about expressing themselves. So I invite you to join me as I continue my journey through LIFE.

I must say that some of my chronicles can be considered rated R. But I think that they are tactful in my approach to tell a truthful story.

Thank you for joining me here. Enjoy your read.

Mark Clayton Southers

#1 Fireworks

Laying here watching the muted fireworks off in the distant hills.

Framed by the discarded food wrappers, cards and display of foliage.

I find myself adding sound from past seven fours. I find myself peeking in, imaginatively watching my wife and children miles away. Grinning at the wonderment on their faces and caressing the back of their head and necks.

And as the pounding of the finale reaches its crescendo, I know that our goosebumps emerge together.

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#2 Hank

Hank opened his eye today.

He struggled to raise his head up. After several attempts he succeeded and wearily looked around wondering just what happened and where the hell was he.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Yeah, I was a little worried. I was hoping that his deep sleep wasn't permanent. I must admit it was a little scary watching the two young nurse's assistants bathe me and he not move an inch. I mean, don't get me wrong, it would have been a little embarrassing, but at least I'd know he was still alive. He had two new scars now and smelled of various ointments and surgery drippings.

He continued to sleep through multiple caressing baths, as I prayed he didn't wake. But he could have given me a sign or something. You know, like a little wink or roll to the side and back. Or even that little stutter move that he does in the morning.

I know he's been through basically the same trauma that I have but I'm thinking that his recovery shouldn't take so long. I'm starting to think he's treating it like a much needed vacation. I mean yeah, I am a fifty-three year old with two kids under the age of seven. But hey, don't judge me like this. Hank has had plenty of nap time. I think it's rude to scare me this way. I know the body is mysterious and all, but this is downright scary.

Look, my taste buds were slow to come back. It took over three weeks and they still aren't one hundred percent, more like sixty. Aaaand I have no desire to eat sweets. I guess that's good and bad. Sixty percent taste buds aren't so bad. They are gradually getting better, but Hank, he's also at about sixty percent. That's not gonna work. Plain and simple, he's got to rise up to one hundred! I've had so many drugs in my system on a daily basis that I know they've had to have been absorbed in him. I can tell the way he leans to the side sometimes and just stares at me like he's in a daze. I slap him around, put cold rags on him and ... nothing.

I've even put him thru several tests.

You know, a hands on test, a back down memory lane test. And yes ... the Hugh Hefner publication test, and he's failed miserably. I'm starting to think it could have been Halle Berry bathing me in the Euphrates and he still wouldn't budge.

I'm really hoping it is just a matter of time, but hey, If this was a ball team he'd be sitting on the bench.

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#3 Babylon

My mother and my wife bathed me today. It was like going back to Babylon. I felt like royalty. I had a vision of just this the day before, and now it was a reality. Pat Metheny oozed from the Pandora app out of my phone.

Several nurse's assistants passed by occasionally to peep in to see who was doing their job.

Soapy hot water never felt so good.

As my wife tended to my face and ears my mothers gently scrubbed my feet.

The bath was so thorough. Every inch of my fractured body being cleansed.

Quietly they scrubbed and patted and prayed as they observed my new tattoos.

Ladders from staples and train tracks from stitches covering various parts of my body.

I can only imagine what was going through their minds. My mother who gave birth to my naked flawless body, now witnessing this destruction, holding back tears because she knows that God must have a purpose.

My beautiful wife, whose memory of my body is now just that...... a memory. Knowing that things are now different.

As lovers the terrain has been altered and the long road ahead will indeed require lots of tender loving care.

It's tough being immobile but today, today my fearsome mother and wifey team has taken me to a place of comfort very rarely visited.

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#4 Prayer for my Leg

Leg. You've been with me my whole life. Helping to make external waves on the surface of my mama's belly.

Lifting me to succeed with the cookie jar. It was also you along with your right leg brother that grew the fastest, lifting me to even higher heights.

Your skin was always flawless. Smooth and readily took lotion. Occasional mosquitoes found their way to your surface and started some shit, I scratched but you always bounced back. Your brilliant brown skin was always beautiful to me. And when my bow legs used to be sexy, there you were showing off with your smooth sexy self.

Yet even as we aged you still maintained a hint of your former self. Yes, you required more lotion, but the gleam you once had still shined through.

And then I let you down. I blacked out and left you in harm's way. I'm so sorry. It hurts me so much to witness the destruction that came your way.

I never saw the aftermath and how you looked but I heard it was bad. I really don't think I could have handled it, my friend.

I was told that I almost lost you. That would have been devastating.

Luckily three surgeons agreed to work on you together to try to save you.

They worked on you for over a week. Then they placed an external fixator on you. They wanted it to stay on for twelve weeks with no movement.

Well, today is the day. Twelve weeks have passed. I did my best to stay still those twelve weeks. Yes, today is the day. In a few hours they will take an X-ray of you to determine if you're healed.

Leg, I can't tell you how much I really appreciate all that you've done for me.

I pray to God Almighty that you are healed and ready for our next journey together. I need you, leg! I need you to help me stand and walk again.

Promise me that you're healed, my friend. I don't care what shape you're in, no matter what level it is, I will do my best to exercise you back to completeness.

Dear Lord God please bless my leg, please give it a second chance, for it is innocent and deserves to function again. I ask you this in your beautiful son Jesus' name. Amen.

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#5 Still Here

I wearily opened my eyes during one of those moments of escape from the nether world. I looked down at my hands and they were swollen and white. My long nails protruded from the skin and I felt like a werewolf momentarily.

I had on a fancy hospital outfit with zippers and it was zipped down to my waist. I looked at my stomach and I had a six pack! Clearly I had lost a great deal of weight but how exciting was this. A great body without even stepping into the gym. I Immediately started to think of ways to maintain my new figure. I thought of foods to cut out and what exercises I could do.

And then I looked closer, and I saw that they had cut me open. Much like open heart surgery but from my navel up.

I later found out it was for exploratory reasons. To make sure that I didn't have internal bleeding. It looks terrible. Oh well. I'm still here.

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#6 Crying

I've been crying a lot lately. Initially for physical pain, then the mental.

Friends and family say don't cry. The nurses and nurses aides ignore it as they perform their various tasks.

But I deserve to cry. I deserve to let those emotions out. I've done so much non-stop for a lifetime and now I need to nourish myself. Most men don't take the time to take care of themselves mentally and physically. I'm learning that this is my time to reevaluate this.

I can't hold back the tears any longer. My tear gauge has been readjusted. When I've cried in front of nurses and other folks here I find myself apologizing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, sorry that I'm crying like a little B€#%.

But not anymore. No more apologizing. I'm changing up, and my crying is part of it.

I'm shedding away the pain.

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#7 Mike & Ike's

I was on a feeding tube for at least two months, maybe longer. My wife knows just exactly how long, but it's after midnight and I know she's knocked out so I won't bother her about that detail.

This feeding tube went thru my nose and ran down into my ..... well ... I don't even remember that. My wife knows that as well.

I thought it went to my stomach but now that I think about it, I think it bypassed my stomach and went straight to the next section. Anywho the food was a yellow substance that came from a huge plastic bag that hung on my IV stand. I can't say that it was nasty because it never ran past my taste buds. I do know that it looked nasty as hell. Now that's where you can use "As hell". That's when it makes sense. "Cold as hell" makes no sense.

Unless you're saying "That was cold that they wanted me to go to hell."

Anywho, so I had this feeding tube in me like forever. As my consciousness grew and I became more alert, all I wanted was to get this tube out of my nose, and I wanted so badly to eat something. Anything. They kept telling me soon. As soon as your heartbeat slows down and you're breathing normally you can have something to eat. This went on for what seemed like forever.

Eventually they took the feeding tube out of my nose. Then they had a nutritionist come in to teach me how to eat again. She worked with me on how to swallow and eat normally again.

During this time my wife out of the kindness of her heart gave me my cell phone to use.

Now keep in mind I still had narcotics in my system. I had been weaned off of them but they were still saturated deep into my tissues and I was still feeling the effects of them periodically. One of the things that really tripped me out was that my iPhone was curved outwards towards me. Like when I held it, it was like I was holding a miniature hood of a soap box derby car. Or a .... It was curved outwards towards me and everything was mutated. I couldn't use it because everything was distorted, but I didn't want to give it back to her, nor did I want her to know that my mind was tripping like Dorothy returning from the poppy fields. So I acted like everything was alright.

I wanted to call my friends so badly but I could not operate my phone. I couldn't even answer it when it rang. Everything was bloated and blurry.

The only communication I had with folks is when they came to visit. Most visitors when leaving usually ask "Is there anything that I can get you?"

More times than not I request Mike & Ike's. My memory of them was so strong. I could imagine their juicy taste and I wanted to re-live that feeling.

Well, one morning my phone rang, and when I picked it up, to my surprise it had returned to its normal shape. On the other end was my good friend Kim.

She informed me that she was coming to visit that day and if there was anything that I wanted her to bring? My door was cracked open, so I whispered to her "Mike & Ike's". I had to be super careful; I didn't want any of the nurses or nurses' aides to hear. She must have not believed her ears. She was like "What?" I'm like "Bring me a box of Mike and Ike's and some Boston Baked". You all remember those goodies. I was craving them. I hadn't eaten anything for close to five weeks and it's all I thought about 24/7.

I was averaging about twelve people a day initially once I was allowed to have guests. So on the day when Kim showed up with the goodies there were already several people in the room so she couldn't give me the bag of snacks right away. So I just laid in the bed and had conversations with folks while staring like a crack head intently at the rolled up brown paper bag held in Kim's grasp.

Eventually the room thinned out and Kim presented the bag to me. I immediately went in on the Mike & Ike's box. Ripping it open like a spoiled child on Christmas Day. And Kimmy really hooked a brother up, she had bought me one of those industrial sized boxes like you get at the movies for like eight dollars.

Usually, you know, you grab a handful and grub them all down, but I chose to pick out just one singular orange one.

I placed it in my mouth and rolled it around on my tongue. I laid my head back and they tell me that my eyes rolled back in my head in sheer ecstasy.

The room grew quiet while I took all of this delight in. But the strange thing was, was that I couldn't eat anymore. That first one had satisfied my mental urge but my taste buds would not support another attempt.

I found a place to hide them from my nurses and when the kids visited I handed them off to them. My good friend Wali brought me another big bag of goodies and all I could do was just look at them and smile at the memories that they invoked.

Yes, my taste buds had not made that long difficult journey back like my mind had. And that's how it would be for food as well. I'd crave pizza and take one bite and that was it. Everything else would taste like mush.

That's where this whole chicken wing thing came into play. Chicken wings were just about the only thing that I could enjoy on a repeat basis. Especially with different sauces.

But getting to this understanding was a journey. There were several times when they contemplated putting the feeding tube back in because I wasn't finishing my meals.

But my good friends came to my rescue, bringing me in wings around the clock.

My taste buds also woke up to where I could enjoy cheesesteak hoagies. And for about six weeks I was at a facility in the Highland Park area and Vento's Pizza was just a few short blocks away.

Yes, a Vento's cheesesteak hoagie was the meal of choice for quite sometime.

My weight slowly increased and the threat of "The Tube" returning all but disappeared.

Thinking back to the good ole days, I remember all of those trips to Porter's Superette, and before school to Bob's Truck and even to that little store in Braddock after church every Sunday, oh and yes to Stott's near Whitaker when visiting my grandparents.

These were my childhood outlets to scoop up several boxes of Boston Baked Beans, Lemon Heads, a bag of Swedish Fish, a couple of stick pretzels and a few boxes of Mike and Ike's.

Yes my body had shrunk to the size that I was when I was a pre-teen. Losing around eighty pounds initially, but I had gained about thirty pounds back from those yellow bags of mush. I still had a long, long, long way to go to regain my strength and not be forced to buy all new clothes.

Yes, my memory of those good tasting Mike & Ike's jumpstarted my dormant taste buds and was the catalyst for my body's return to normalcy. Sometimes it's the little things that we least expect that unlock the closed doors in our lives. So having an opened mind can go a long way.

Enjoy LIFE my friends!

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#8 I'm a Rag Doll

I'm laying here unable to move below my neck. I'm told I'm not paralyzed, but yet I cannot move much. I can move my right arm fully and my left partially.

Neither of my legs will move. Everything is in a fog. I have a breathing tube in my mouth and a feeding tube inserted into my left nostril.

My beautiful wife comes close to my face and speaks to me in slow structured sentences much like a kindergarten teacher talking to a five year old on his first day of school.

She shines and is full of heavenly praise for the Lord.

Strangely it feels like I'm in a space station. I don't feel at all like I'm laying in a hospital bed but more like I'm strapped standing up to a wall. Nurses occasionally come in and remove bags of fluid from below me.

I have no idea that it's my fluid and that I have multiple tubes connected to my lower orifices. Yes, my body is in cruise control thanks to modern science.

I have a large bandage on my stomach. It covers nearly the entire area. Every once in a while, maybe like early in the morning and then again late at night, a wound nurse comes in and changes the large bandage. And if I'm awake and I move my head to the right angle, I can catch a glimpse of the large raw open area on my stomach.

It's heart-breaking to see. Initially I thought that this was an injury from my accident. After inquiring I found out that it was actually an incision that was made so that they could look inside of me for possible internal bleeding.

I was infuriated upon learning this. They made a cut from right below my chest down to my navel and then around my navel. It resembled an upside down question mark.

I could not comprehend why they did this. With all of the machinery and technology that exists these days, why the hell would they destroy my skin in such an inhumane way? It was painful to look at.

I have three children. I'm well aware of what a sonogram is. Why couldn't they have used a sonogram to see if I had internal bleeding? Why did they have to cut me open? Weren't my wounds enough? I was pissed. I'd remove the bandage and stare at the grotesque scar whenever I got a chance and I wondered why? Throughout my recovery I'd show it to people trying to get them to agree with me that it was a messed up thing that they did.

But this scar was really the least of my worries. My lower left leg had been destroyed in the accident. They rebuilt it and it now has a huge metal contraption attached to it with multiple metal pins going from it into my tibia bone.

Every few days I discovered a new injury or a scar that didn't exist before May 11th, 2015. Yes, that day was like my 9/11 except for the fact that there was no one to blame. Yes, it was all my fault. Thinking back, I should have pulled over when my coughing fit reached a certain point.

Thirty years prior I was driving my white Mercury Monarch from the Northside towards town. As I drove up the ramp near Three Rivers Stadium I had a similar coughing fit. I pulled over to the right on the ramp which pissed off a slew of drivers. I could barely breath, as I got out of my car I viciously beat on my chest as I grasped for air. Eventually I stopped coughing and things returned to normal. I got into my car and drove to wherever I was headed.

I never thought about it again. It happened again periodically over the years but never again while driving until May 11th, 2015.

Yes I could have pulled over but I thought it would eventually stop. Well, it did, when I passed out with my vehicle in motion and my wife strapped in the passenger seat helpless as our truck jumped over the median and headed like a missile towards an oncoming school bus.

So now that incident has left my body like that of a rag doll. Barely able to move unless assisted.

I was unconscious for five weeks, two of which I was in a induced coma so that the surgeons could make the necessary repairs to my mangled body.

Now conscious and in what seemed like a surreal environment, I had to struggle to ask questions. The air tube in my mouth prevented me from communicating on a normal level. For a week or two I was reduced to writing on a tablet but my penmanship was slow to return to normal and most of my attempts were unintelligible.

I eventually learned that I also had three broken ribs and a pelvic injury where they placed two 5" metal screws into my hip, one of which is connected to my tailbone. Also, they replaced a chipped piece of bone in my left knee. They used a piece from somewhere in my leg to replace it. They screwed the new piece of bone in with two 2" screws.

And they were concerned about foot drop with my left foot.

Yes, my injuries were mounting up. Several weeks of my being conscious had gone by before I was even informed that I had had back surgery. Yes, they performed a spinal fusion which had already healed.

I now have a long scar down my back where they inserted two long metal rods. That surgery left me with the feeling of having a curved 1/2" thick plastic shell on my back. It's like I have a small child's snow sled stuck to my back. But when I reach back and feel it, it feels flat to my touch. I guess it's the foreign material inside my body that's causing these "Ghost" feelings.

With two metal rods in my back and one metal rod in my lower left leg, two pins in my left hip and two screws in my left knee I'm going to have major problems at the airport from now on.

At one point I vaguely remember hearing a nurse or someone remarking that they had considered amputating my left leg below the knee.

Man, am I glad I'm not living in the 1800's, and so thankful that I had a surgeon who was willing to put his training and skills to the ultimate test. Yes, he gave my leg a chance to survive, and I am forever grateful to this man.

I remember my older brother Rick telling me that once when he was in an accident they were going to amputate his arm but a Chinese surgeon stopped them and said that he could save it. He did and my brother now has two healthy arms. So I guess we both lucked out, having two surgeons who went that extra step.

The news of this caused me to lower my level of pisstivity about the incision on my stomach. I was still a little disappointed but I now started to understand the severity of my injuries, and I had a better appreciation for the choices that my surgeons had made.

Yes, my injuries were many and they initially left me feeling like a rag doll, but I'm learning that recovery is a very slow process and you have to take it one day at a time and you must have faith in the system and in God.

Onward.

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#9 My Son

My son misses his dad but he doesn't let it show. Only in brief moments do I realize his loss.

He keeps his emotions intact as he navigates through these tough times. Innately he can't let his younger brother know that just on the other side of his wall is a weakness that only he and I share.

It's in these moments the clarity of life and all of its ups and downs are revealed and nothing is left but room for him to grow.

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#10 "Preach! Oh Mama Preach!"

I stood at the bedside of my grandfather as he took his last breath. I wanted to touch him. His skin was silky smooth, even after a lifetime in this world. Now I find myself on my back. My 78 year old mother is in the room. I reach out for her to hold my hand. It has the same skin as her father of many years. Silky smooth. I run my hand across hers as I pull her closer. It is moments like this that warm the heart. She places her other hand upon my forehead and begins a prayer. Complete silence at first while she collects herself. Her quiet somehow is denser. We connect inner outer womb like. I am calm. She begins shouting to the heavens from the gate. Her worlds flow like she scooped from the fiery embers of a young Vanessa German.

All of those trips to Loran Mann's Pentecostal welcoming fortress have armed her with a biblical vocabulary worthy of a pulpit visit. I laid there and took it all in. Each word and sentence having a productive and positive meaning. My body reacted, momentarily deflecting the pain that leaped over the meds.

All of the missed rewards from declined invitations to attend have returned in a wave of forgiveness.

Oh I love that woman! I'm thankful that she carried me for all of those months and raised me through the years, and now in my time of need, she is able to tap into the smooth comforting silence that we once knew and shared.

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#11 Moving Day

I was transferred to a new facility today.

I'm leaving a hospital inside of a hospital. I'm at this place called Select Health Care which is inside of Montefiore Hospital. Apparently Montefiore rents space to them.

The place I'm heading to will be my third "step down". Once they took my feeding tube out, then it was just a matter of time before they booted me out. Mainly because I was no longer considered an acute patient needing acute care.

I'm not quite ready for rehab so they have to park me somewhere for a few weeks while my body heals. Then I'll be moved again but this time to a rehab hospital. The metal fixator on my lower left leg is starting to get on my nerves. I can't do much rehab work because of it, but the injuries to my lower left leg aren't completely healed anyway so I have to go to a care center and just chill for a few weeks while my body heals.

My wife and mother came in early to pack everything up. While my mother takes down the collage of cards and photos she assembled on the large cork board on my wall, my wife gathers the plants, flowers and books, all mostly gifts from my visiting friends. I keep my Steelers blankie, a gift from actor Larry John Myers, with me.

It's really the only thing I have close to clothing and I love the way it feels. I've been in nothing but hospital gowns since I arrived, so I don't have any clothes to pack, having not worn any since the accident.

The ambulance service shows up, two guys wheel in a stretcher and pull it up close to my bed. After sizing it up to the exact same height as my bed, they and two nurses assistants grab the sheet under me by its four corners and they slide me over onto the transporting stretcher.

It's a much harder surface than my mattress but it's a short ride to Highland Park so I decide to tough it out. I'm headed to a place called Highland Park Care Center near East Liberty. I always thought it was a senior care home. That plus I was told that the rooms were much smaller than my current space. This information caused me to form an uncomfortable opinion of the place.

The two ambulance drivers are cool, we talk about the Pirates and the Steelers; as we pass the corner of Centre and Bryn Mawr, I mention to them that I live a few blocks right up that street. For a moment I actually thought about asking them to drive me past my brother's store so that we all could get hoagies, but by the time I gathered my thoughts we were a block past Schenley High School.

It's a mostly gentle ride down Centre Ave. Rays of sun streak thru the rear window occasionally striking my face. It's in these brief moments I can feel the remembrance of its heat but for just a short time. I've now been teased by its power and cannot wait to arrive at our destination so that I can lay in its rays and receive a full dose of its magnificent healing qualities.

It's been a little over two months since I've actually been outside.

We pass a slew of familiar sites, Schenley High School, CVS, Wine & Spirits, Pep Boys, Qdoba, Shadyside Hospital, Giant Eagle's Market District, Whole Foods and many more. Oh, there's my favorite place of business. It's the place my wife and I were headed that fateful day of May 11th.

Home Depot. I briefly fantasized about being wheeled up and down its aisles, reaching my arms out and touching items on shelves and saying hello to all of my friends that work there. Lisa, Olivia, Darryl and many more that I know by sight but not name.

The Russian woman who's married to the African man. The fellows in Electrical that always answer my questions. The older guy in paints that knows all about our theatre and always reminds me not to forget that I get ten percent off on paints. The two twin sisters that I always speak to as one so as not to get them mixed up. It's funny I have an ongoing conversation with them both as if they are the same.

I guess I'm just playing it safe. Perhaps now that God chose to slow me down I can take the time to learn their names and speak to them as individuals.

Once we arrive at our destination I ask the ambulance crew to wheel me from under the covered entrance so that I can look up at God's beautiful blue sky.

They grant me my wish. The sun lands across the street only leaving us in the shadow of the building, but once I look up at the beautiful and expansive blue sky I cannot hold back my inner emotions.

I'm overtaken by just what I've been missing these past two months by being indoors. I lay there momentarily thanking God for creating such beauty.

They eventually wheel me to my next interior destination. We enter my room and it's not as small as some folks led me to believe. It's actually nice. And once again I have no roommate, making this at least in my mind a private room.

My wife and mother go about the business of placing my flowers and plants near the window, adding an element of peacefulness to my room.

My nurses introduce themselves and once again I'm settled into my temporary home.

Onward.

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#12 After Impact Part One

I hope this answers a lot of folks' questions.

I remember the moment right after impact. I was jolted back into reality. I looked down and saw the dashboard entwined with my leg. It was a tight fit, no room for movement. I looked over at my wife who was in the midst of peppering me with "Are you okay?"s. I'm like, "I'm F#^€ed up! I'm F#^€ed up!, are you okay?"

She was. We had some more dialogue.

But I was trapped. Held by the intrusion of my front end and the sturdiness of my captain's chair.

After I convinced her to vacate, my breath left me momentarily.

"I can't breathe! I can't breathe!"

I then heard someone outside say "Stand back! The ground is wet!"

I'm like, oh no, "I'm gonna burn to death."

At that point a part of me jumped out of my chest and its energy hovered slightly above my heart and in my voice it said, "Close your eyes and breathe."

I immediately listened to what seemed to be a smarter piece of me. Maybe that's why it was so easy for me to listen.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply.

I could hear my wife wreaking havoc outside the truck. She was tearing at the windows, confronting police officers and attempting to rip open doors.

In the darkness I eventually heard several vehicles approach and come to a stop. I heard someone approach the vehicle and something clamp on to the truck. Yes! The jaws of life have arrived! But I remained calm. After several cuts I was pulled out.

I was out and I don't remember anything after that. Not being outside or even being placed in the ambulance. They must have given me a shot of something powerful that put me under, because my legs were mangled and they didn't want me to go into shock. I'm just assuming here.

I was taken to Presby and I didn't regain consciousness for five weeks. During that time they performed multiple surgeries.

I had numerous injuries. I'll outline them here.

Below is the incision line where they worked on my Pelvic / Hip fracture.

This is part of the lengthy C section incision that they did to repair my hip and pelvic area.

Spinal fusion

They placed two metal rods in my back and two metal pins in my neck.

Abdominal incision

They made this incision so that they could look for internal bleeding.

They didn't find any. SMH.

Multiple lacerations to my right leg.

Some of these lacerations were down to the bone. They healed very well.

The most serious of my injuries was my left leg. It was destroyed. Three surgeons worked to save it.

They lined all of the broken bones up to the way the should look and then they attached that big metal external fixator to my leg. It has fourteen metal pins that go thru my skin and into my bones.

This fixator has to stay on for twelve weeks with very little movement allowed with my leg. I currently have five days to go before they consider removing it.

I'm really concerned about my left foot. It's in a deep sleep with minimal movement. It's not showing any progress.

In addition to all of those injuries I had three broken ribs. They healed on their own.

I have a long road of rehab recovery ahead. I'm taking it one day at a time.

I truly appreciate the tremendous amount of support from my Facebook community of Friends and Family that I received. Thank you prayer warriors! Onward!!!

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#13 After Impact Part Two

Spinal fusion

They placed two metal rods in my back and two metal pins in my neck.

Abdominal incision

They made this incision so that they could look for internal bleeding.

They didn't find any. SMH.

Multiple lacerations to my right leg.

Some of these lacerations were down to the bone. They healed very well.

The most serious of my injuries was my left leg. It was destroyed. Three surgeons worked to save it.

They lined all of the broken bones up to the way the should look and then they attached that big metal external fixator to my leg. It has fourteen metal pins that go through my skin and into my bones.

This fixator has to stay on for twelve weeks with very little movement allowed with my leg. I currently have five days to go before they consider removing it.

I'm really concerned about my left foot. It's in a deep sleep with minimal movement. It's not showing any progress.

In addition to all of those injuries I had three broken ribs. They heal on their own.

I have a long road of rehab recovery ahead. I'm taking it one day at a time.

I truly appreciate the tremendous amount of support from my Facebook community of friends and family that I received. Thank you prayer warriors! Onward!!!

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#14 The Demons

I've been avoiding this subject. I've only discussed my time spent unconscious and saturated with large doses of narcotics with several close friends and family who visited me early on. I'm still not quite ready to write about those horrid five weeks in what seemed like a precursor to purgatory.

My hands shake now as I write. The fear that had me in its grasp followed me out of that dark place and back into the real world at Presbyterian Hospital.

It was so overpowering that once I emerged from that deep sleep I stayed awake around the clock for an entire week or more and my wife says that I breathed at three times the normal rate of a human being for nearly another three weeks. They tried everything to get my stats back to normal but the evil that I saw and was subjected to had made its mark in my mind and it wasn't an easy thing to shake.

Yes, the Demons had me in their grasp for five solid weeks, and in those days it was their design to test my faith and to build a vast wall of distrust and shake my foundation of my love and belief in Jesus Christ and all that was right.

Brace yourselves for the details of the circumstances that I found myself in.

During these times I was hung by a thin bull rope, shot point blank in my head with a dull black pistol. When blindfolded I felt people put out cigarettes in my arms and legs. I found myself in my own casket twice, alive both times on my way to my own funeral in what seemed like a funeral train of hundreds of caskets. It was like I was part of the second middle passage, but this time I was part of the masses that never made the full journey.

Yes, those five weeks were dark and hurtful. For weeks after being weened off of those terrible drugs that transported me there, I was still afraid that some parts of it were real. The paranoia that had set itself into my mind had convinced me that little watchful cameras were in my room and several nurses and doctors were part of this scheme to experiment on me and extract my artistic ideas. I had been a guinea pig at one point, where they had run airline cable through my wrist, knees and every joint on my body, allowing them to move me at will. I was jerked sharply as punishment when I didn't give them answers or move in the directions that they wanted.

It was the woman doctor and her sidekick the slim male geeky doctor who was a computer wiz and amateur filmmaker on the side.

Both bored with their initial chosen career of helping people as physicians, they now moonlighted as failed artisans, which left them to act out their distorted artistic expressions that revolved around kidnapping and torture of the mind.

I plan to write about those dark days in full detail at some point. But you should know that it felt totally real and in high definition for the 24 hours, seven days a week for those five straight weeks that I was held mentally captive.

Some folks have told me not to write about it. They suggested that I let it go, so as not to bring the negativity back into my consciousness. But you see, they don't understand. It's already there lurking in the dark corners of my mind. And my way of exorcising those dark forces is for me to write about them. I write to get things off of my chest and out of my system. So be prepared at some point for the Dark Chronicles. It's all part of my journey.

Onward.

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#15 My Boys

I miss my boys. The clutches and the confinement of the Hospital feels like a really bad child custody arrangement.

Visits are sparse and rudimentary. Initially I was disappointed at my wife's decision to keep them at home with my daughter Ashley. But I wasn't fully cognizant of my surroundings and how I looked with tubes hanging out of my nose and mouth, my body mangled and wrapped like a mummy in different parts.

And my speech severely impaired.

I wanted to see them so bad, that it angered me that I couldn't. I couldn't see myself, but my wife knew that my former self had been altered and that now I was not presentable.

Now I was scary to a young mind. This I didn't think of. All I wanted was to see my boys.

Eventually as I healed she slowly brought them around. They were quiet. They didn't rush to see me like in the movies. They slowly approached, the little one being prodded by mom.

I hugged my oldest son for awhile. I could feel the awkwardness. Eventually he pulled away wanting to review my injuries.

My youngest, four year old Andre, stood there looking down at the floor. "Andre, come here son." He came closer and I reached down and palmed the back of his head. I rubbed it and rubbed it. He seemed to like that.

I pulled the sheet away to reveal my mangled left leg. Attached to it was a metal contraption called an external fixator. It had fourteen metal pins protruding from it into my shin and drilled into my leg bone. It doesn't hurt anymore, probably because of how long it's been there. My oldest, seven year old Marcus, looked it over as if he wanted to say "Can I have it when it comes off?"

Subsequent visits were not as personal. Now the video games on their Kindles or Mom's phone were just enough distractions to offer up an occasional "Hi dad" or "I love you too" response to my "I love you".

Just having them in the room is comforting to a degree. But I do miss holding them, snuggling up with them watching TV and eating popcorn.

My fear is that that phase will have passed by the time I return home.

My fear is that I won't fit in at all. That I'll be viewed as this Frankenstein person that came in out of the woods and they took me in. That the visions of all of my scars are etched into their fragile young minds. Which now makes sense of my wife's decisions.

I've notice that when they visit individually they pay more attention to me. It's a mixed feeling because I really want them both to be there. But I'm learning to take what I can get.

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#16 This Far by Faith

So the night before, my good friend Cheryl El Walker came by and gave me a shape-up. She also went behind my nurses aide's shave and helped make me presentable for my big day. The next day I elected for an early bath. The aide was a rather big girl and she gave me a strong-handed bath, which I liked.

My ambulance pick-up appointment was at 8:30am for a trip to Presby.

8:30 came and went. The clock continued to tick and time went by.

Finally they arrived at 9:30.

I was a little pissed because I thought that the surgeons would have moved on with other appointments. I refused to leave until I got confirmation that I would still be seen. A nurse went to call over to Presby. So we all sat there.

My wife, a few nurses aides, the two tardy brothers from the ambulance company and myself.

I wanted so badly to say to the ambulance guys, "This is my big day! Didn't you know that my pick-up appointment was at 8:30? Man ya'll an hour late? WTF?" But the one guy was quite large. I mean really large. So I just lay there with my mouth closed.

I looked over at the other guy. He was a little dude who seemed to be quite friendly. I thought about asking him what happened, but in all honesty it didn't really matter. We were an-hour-plus behind.

The nurse returned with good news, they would still see me at Presby.

As we approached the ambulance I requested to briefly sit in the sun. Something that I hadn't experienced since May 11th. Something that was taken for granted in the past.

They loaded me into what I thought was an ambulance. I mean it had all of the markings on the outside that said Ambulance and what not, but the inside was completely bare. I mean nothing. No resuscitation equipment, no oxygen, no cabinets with hospital stuff, no nothing. Nothing but bare metal walls. They told me my daughter could sit on the wheel well if she wanted. It was bare as well. "Naw, that's alright. She can sit up there with you all, where the real seats are," I said.

The short ride was smooth to Presby.

Since I was in a gurney I had my very own waiting room ... in the hallway.

I just laid there with my eyes closed until it was my turn. It wasn't long before they escorted us into a room.

A lady came in and had me fill out papers giving them permission to use my results in a program. I signed it. It didn't matter to me. Just bring on the surgeon. Eventually they came for me to take me to the X-ray room.

There I found a stern middle-aged woman running things.

As she barked orders I complied. When it came to something I couldn't do because of my spinal injury she had no clue. So we moved on. Then it all went downhill: me suggesting ways to position myself to avoid pain and her barking at me "I know what I'm doing" etc, etc. Anywho, we made up at the end and I was back in my own waiting room.

Ashley went for food. She brought back pizza for everyone including our two ambulance guys.

Finally Surgeon Tarkin and his right-hand man entered the room. I shook his hand with delight and I told him how much I appreciated his attempt to save my leg. He said he hasn't seen this much damage on a live person in twenty years. Again I told him how thankful I was that he saw some light at the end of the tunnel and it was this light that led him to attempt to save my leg.

He had seen the X-rays so I was anxious to hear the results.

He says, "Your leg has healed.

"The bones and metal rod took. We're gonna take off the metal on the top part of your knee so that you can bend it. We'll keep the Fixator on the bottom part of your leg for another six weeks so that the bones can calcify and get even stronger. And we want you to bear weight on your left leg now so that it will get stronger."

So now I can bend my left leg somewhat. I've been transferred to HealthSouth Rehab which used to be Harmarville Rehab. This place is top-notch. It's fabulous, plus the food isn't that bad. It's about a 15-20 minute ride up Route 28.

Now the bad news. My surgeon informed me as I suspected. My left foot will not lift up because of the damage. They will construct an insert for my shoe that will keep it from dropping when I walk.

So there it is folks.

Knee OK.

Leg OK.

Foot Not OK.

I've started rehab and it is no joke.

My left hip is in bad shape from the accident. It showed itself today. At Presby during all of the surgeries they put a few screws in it and told me that I will need a replacement at some point.

I believe the rehab process will speed up the necessity of my having hip surgery.

Oh well, there it is. Thank your FB Family & Friends for all of your kind words of support, gifts, cards, visits, donations and especially your heartfelt prayers. I just want to say that I've come this far by faith and the journey to this point would have been IMPOSSIBLE without my visitors and my FB community! Thank you, thank you, thank you..... God bless you all!

Mark

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#17 Anxiety Pt 1

Anxiety. I had my first, second and third adult anxiety attacks all in the matter of five days. I say adult because I don't think I had one since childhood. I'm assuming I had at least one; you'd have to ask my mother about this. If you asked my dad, if he was still with us, he'd think for a minute and then tell you about the time he took me on the Ferris wheel at West View Park for Madison's class picnic. I'm not sure why they called it a picnic; we never really put down a blanket and chowed down, but anywho, that's what it was called.

I was a little apprehensive about getting on this rickety thing. This Ferris wheel was huge but seemed to be from another era. You know, the whole park seemed second-hand to Kennywood, but we didn't care. The Madison School Picnic was a big thing to us students. We all went out and got new outfits. Some of the more gifted folks made their own. I went downtown to get mine, with my mother of course.

We ended up at a place called KAY'S. They used to have a catchy slogan that they used on their radio ad with an African-American woman singing. It sorta went like this:

Kay's can fit any man,
Tall men, short men.
Kay's can fit any man
Fat men skinny men too.
Now come to Kay's
And you will see
The finest clothes of quality.
To match your personality...and your pocket book.........and your pocket book.

I had to consult with my man Wali Jamal on the lyrics. I think we were close.

So we looked through all of the clothes that were my size and we settled on a one-piece chocolate brown double-knit zipper-down-the-middle jumpsuit.

It looked great. My mom approved. I think it was $16.99. That was a lot of money back then. I just checked with Google and the year vs year calculator says in today's dollars it would have cost $97.06. It was 1972 and I was on my way to the school picnic. All my friends were decked out, Georgie, Earl, Chuck, Greg, Derek, and Pooh Kane. And the ladies were just as sharp as well, Lason, Pam, Marcia, Cindy, Linda, Kelly, Lavern, Lyndora and many more, we hit the park in style. So later on in the day my dad says to me "Let's get on the Ferris Wheel." Well I'm not going to be a punk in front of my dad so I'm like "OK, let's do it."

So we get on and right away my body is telling me this ain't a good idea. I brace myself. And it starts, but it goes backwards. I'm like, wait a minute, this is wrong, and as it goes slowly backwards my anxiety slowly begins. Now it's starting to go a little faster and after a few rotations it stops and starts going the right way. But it's too late, my body has already said F#^€ it! It starts to go faster and faster. Now it's moving at full speed and every time we go past the operator I'm asking him to stop. I'm yelling at him to stop! I'm saying "Dad please ask him to stop".

After the seventh or eighth time I guess he notices that I look like I'm passing out, so he slows it down to a stop and lets me and my dad off. I'm sure my dad was embarrassed but it didn't matter I just wanted my freedom from that death machine. I ran to the nearest bathroom to reach the big white porcelain basin to catch my potential discharge. Once there nothing really happened so I ended up going to sit on the toilet to calm down. I always thought the toilet was a place of comfort, preferably at home, but this would do. The bathroom was filthy, as they always were this late in the day. Urine and debris were everywhere on the floor.

I placed toilet paper on the toilet seat as my mother had taught me and I wiggled out of my new jumpsuit and pulled it down to my knees and held it tightly. I was now fully relaxed. As I sat there I slowly drifted off to sleep. I can't remember what I dreamed of but I know it wasn't a dream of me conquering that old Ferris wheel, riding it at full speed with sparks shooting out of it. I'm not sure how long I was asleep but when I woke up my $16.99 jumpsuit was no longer in my grasp. It had fallen to the floor covering my new Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. I immediately went to grab it and pull it back up but it seemed to be heavier, quite heavier. I leaned forward to look at it and noticed that it was now a darker shade of brown.

Yes, my double-knit James Brown jumpsuit had become a sponge and had managed to soak up all of the urine and dirty floor water for a ten-foot radius. All of that DNA was now collected in my outfit.

I stepped out of it and pulled up my tighty-whities which were spared of the muck. I said goodbye to the heavy brown material as I deposited it into the large trash barrel. I headed back out into the park in my white underwear and my white Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. I knew I was close to the parking lot so I made a beeline towards it. I ignored the curious onlookers none of which knew me. Once inside the parking lot I quickly located our white Chrysler.

Back then we didn't lock the doors so I was able to get in. I got in the back seat and eventually fell asleep. When I woke up we were half way home. I explained to my parents what happened and all was good. My mother covered me up with her light jacket as we made our way to the Hill District.

That, my friends, was my first panic attack. Now my second, third and forth ones, all happened within the last week at the rehab center that I just entered. The most recent one was yesterday and it wasn't pretty.

The problem has been identifying the root of them. They wanted to put me on all kinds of meds to help, but I refused them all. I wanted to understand the problem and conquer it myself.

The first time, we're thinking, was because of low blood pressure. But I'm inclined to think it was also because it was my first time outside and also that my body wasn't used to sitting up in a wheelchair. Who really knows?

The second and third times were when I entered the large gymnasium for physical therapy. Just like outside, everything got blurry and white and I had to be rushed back to my room where I dry heaved for several moments. But once in the bed I felt like it was my comfort zone.

The last episode was the worst. It was sort of like a double attack. When they wheeled me back to the room, after awhile I asked to be placed on the toilet instead of on a bed pan in the bed.

I had never been on the toilet before, well at least since the accident. So we made our way to the bathroom. Getting me on the toilet was a task. It took three nurses and nurses assistants.

My fixator on my leg was problematic but eventually they got me on there and I immediately moved my bowels. They left me alone and after several moments I felt at ease. Yes I was on the toilet once again and enjoying my place of comfort.

Occasionally someone on the other side of the door checked on me. After awhile I figured it was time to get off and get back to my comfort zone in the bed. So I pulled the red rope next to the commode to alert my nurse.

They were there within a few minutes. First three then a fourth arrived.

They had me scoot forward and then one of the nurses cleaned me. They were all about business. Then they attempted to lift me to my wheelchair but my left leg with the fixator had other ideas. It slid away from me causing pain and then the anxiety jumped on me quickly. The room changed. Everything started to slow down. They peppered me with questions as they tried to get me to comply with their request to get me to my wheelchair.

One woman asked me how did my accident happen. I told her not now, not now. Eventually they got me to my bed, but I was full tilt. I got on my mobile phone and called my wife for comfort. "What's wrong, what's wrong baby?" she replied. And in my most panicky, snot dripping, shaking like someone who just saw a ghost voice I said "I'm having a bad panic attack, I need you". She told me she'd be there shortly. That alone calmed me down somewhat. My speech therapists was sitting quietly off to the left of my bed observing it all and offering bits of comforting advice. I eventually calmed down and dozed off. When I woke my wife and mother were there and once again I was in good hands.

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#18 Anxiety Pt 2 / The Devil Ran

After a rough battle with Anxiety the previous day I woke up fresh after a full night of sleep. There was nothing on my mind but to conquer my fear of that gymnasium, if that what it was. But I really wanted to push through that morning with occupational therapy and then physical therapy and then return to the comfort of my room. That would be considered a victory to me.

So I drank lots of water and focused on nothing but good thoughts. One thing that ran across my mind was that I couldn't really see the whole gymnasium because I never wore my glasses. So on this day I decided to do so.

I was pumped so I pushed myself and got into my wheelchair once again by myself. I went to occupational therapy and did the necessary work. I kept my head down and exercised so to keep my attention in what I was doing. I constantly watched the clock as the original forty-five minutes shrank down to less than ten. I asked my therapist could I leave five minutes early so that I could enter the gymnasium early and sit still for awhile and take it all in.

She agreed and shortly thereafter I headed to the big Gym.

I slowly wheeled toward it, quietly telling myself that everything was going to be all right. Stay calm, I said. I stopped momentarily right outside the doors and I put on my glasses. Now I could take it all in. I wheeled myself in, observing the entire place. I made my way to our wheelchair parking area and sat quietly. I looked about the room. It was now under control thanks to my glasses. I could see all four corners.

Other residents were working out in different areas. I lowered my head and quietly prayed for strength to make it through these next 45 minutes.

My therapist came up to me and we chatted briefly. She asked if I wanted to go outside. I said not really, I'd rather just workout. So we did some minor foot and leg exercises with my right leg. Then she took it to the next level by adding weights. She then suggested that we work on my left foot which was my bad foot. And although we were told I won't be able to lift that foot up we worked those muscles anyway.

I actually was glad that she didn't feel defeated and thought that my left foot deserved a chance.

We eventually moved to the parallel bars and with some assistance I was able to stand momentarily. It wasn't pretty. I wasn't really excited about the accomplishment but really more aware of how far I had to go. I glanced at the clock and time had really flown by. I only had ten minutes left in my session.

I was starting to feel victorious, but I knew from past panic attacks that it doesn't take much to trigger them and they can happen at any time. So I paid attention to the rest of my regime and got through it. We did some upper-body hand weights and I was dismissed to my room. As I wheeled myself back to my room I was careful not to celebrate until I returned to the comfort of my bed. I did smile though. I arrived to my room and there sat my speech therapist waiting on me. I had forgot that I had a 45 minute session with her as well.

Believe it or not this is my favorite part of the day. Not only did I like my speech therapist, who was a very kind lady, I loved how she approached her craft. We worked with words and sentences. Most of the times I aced just about all of my test. I think that initially she was shocked that I did. She remarked quite a few times that my answers were unique but correct. Or "I never really heard it put that way, but it will work." I told her that I like to think outside the box.

We did about half of our session with me sitting in my wheelchair and then I summoned the nurse for help getting back into my bed.

It's always a great feeling being deposited into the bed. No matter what's going on with you, once you're back in the bed your body immediately relaxes. It's like a womb, especially for someone who's been bedridden for the last three and a half months.

The nurses took off my shoes and socks and I was in heaven.

I finished up my session with the speech therapist and she exited. I lay there smiling. I could now celebrate my accomplishment. Yes, I felt I had defeated my anxiety! I got through my morning exercises. I had lunch coming at noon and a two-and-a-half hour break before my next physical therapy session. So I slept peacefully.

My lunch came and I ignored it initially. Later I poked at it. I can't remember what it was but I was more interested in going back to sleep.

Two thirty approached and I lay there looking at the clock. It was now twenty five after two. At this time I should have had my shoes and socks on and been in my wheelchair and headed to P/T.

But my conscious said, "Naw, you don't need any more action today. You did enough." I lay there as the second hand slowly made its way around the traditional round wall clock.

An image of a man appeared in my dark doorway. It slowly moved towards me. Before I could say something it said "Hey, hey". It was a well-built man. At first I thought it was my nephew but as he got closer I realized it was retired Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Logan. I couldn't believe it. I had given up on going to my afternoon therapy session. The Devil had talked me out of it but when Mike entered the room I felt the Devil run away. My body felt reinvigorated. Yes, I wanted to be like Mike, in shape and purposeful.

I've always admired Mike's positivity and his approach to the word of God and Life. So now I was ready for action. God had placed him here at the right time. I pointed up and said to Mike, "Isn't he a great God? He knew."

Mike put on my shoes and socks and I got into my wheelchair and we headed to the gym. It was an awesome experience. Yes, Mike entered the room and the Devil ran. A warrior of Christ made my day. Onward and upward my friends!

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#19 Fear of the Black Man

One of the things I did at the hospital and the rehab facility is that when I met a new nurse or nurses aide for the first time, or if there was an administrator that came bedside, I'd ask them to come closer for an energy transfer. I'd grab hold of their right hand and I'd rub their left arm and the top of their hand vigorously with my left hand. Some are cold to the touch initially and some are slightly warm. But eventually I warm them up.

I do this with my guests as well but with them it's more of me thanking them for coming out.

When the nurses or whoever are African American it's like "Hey how are you? Nice to meet you, fam."

But when they are white it's a whole different ball game.

You see, more times than not most of these caucasian nurses have not come in contact with an African American in an intimate setting to the point that their initial conversation is warm. They usually keep their distance for awhile unless they find some similarities that draw them closer. It's my belief that it's the images from the eleven o'clock news and negative depictions of black men and boys on TV and in the movies that permeate their minds and cause them to have an already-formed opinion of black men.

When I first came off of the high doses of narcotics and emerged out of my comatose state I was really sensitive.

I cried when close friends or family came into the room, much like I did when people that I admired showed up at my father's funeral, although I went downstairs at Jones Funeral home to let it all out.

This time I was flat on my back barely able to move from all of the trauma that my body had endured. My very first visitor that I can remember after being conscious was my friend Eric Smith. I'm not sure what we talked about but it certainly was a good feeling when he walked into the room. As other visitors appeared I couldn't hold back my emotions and I certainly wasn't able to escape to the basement to hide my tears. I lay there flat on my back holding on to their arm or hand bawling my eyes out like a recently returned P.O.W.

You see, I was returning from a war where I had escaped death. I wasn't fighting for my country but for my sanity and the opportunity to return unscathed to where my friends and family were. I'm thinking that my emotional state was turned all the way up on high because I was overcome with joy that I was still alive and now I'm getting a chance to see my friends and family again. For in that dark place that I was for five solid weeks, I saw no one that loved me.

A lot of times when black folks complain or mention racial abuse, people both black and white are quick to dismiss it as the one complaining is being oversensitive or that the person who's dishing it out is really not a bad person and has black friends.

Well that may be true, but I'm quite sure that at some point their black friends let them slide with a little joke or negative comment here or there, which in turn allowed them to feel more comfortable and which gave them a false license to continue on. Another thing which allows this type of racial thinking to survive is the very culture we live in, if our young children both black and white are watching TV, which more than likely is serving as a babysitter.

If they are glued to this device their entire young lives, then they are constantly bombarded with programming and commercials where caucasians dominate the screen. Beat into their young minds that Santa and Jesus are always going to be white, just like at the mall or depicted in the stained glass windows at most churches.

What message is this subconsciously going into our young black boys' minds? That they are not a part of this world?

Speaking of Santa, I have a very good friend who is an older white man. Early on in our friendship he called me one day telling me that he had his Santa suit on, and that he had just finished visiting a group of kids at a local hospital or church. He was nearby and asked if he could stop by and surprise our two boys. I paused for a minute because it was a difficult position to be in. But I told him, "Hey man, I really appreciate the offer, but my wife and I just had them down at the AWC getting their pictures taken with an African-American Santa Claus and I really think it would send a mixed message to them."

He paused momentarily not having much to say. It was a moment that caused us both to think about race and just how much our country is divided.

I'll share with you some more of my experiences that were both slightly funny and really sad. When my daughter Ashley was five she wanted a puppy. My brothers, sister Joy and I all grew up with a dog in the house. I knew from past experiences that a Labrador retriever was a good calm loving dog for a child.

So I located a kennel in the newspaper and Ashley and I headed out to the country to look at some labs.

We eventually arrived at this kennel. The dogs barked wildly as we pulled into the huge driveway. The owner came out and greeted us in between shouts at his legion of dogs to shut up.

I had told him by phone that we were interested in a chocolate lab so he was all prepared and escorted us to a long pen where the chocolate labs were.

When he went to retrieve a few of the pups the mother charged towards Ashley and I and went into a hysterical barking fit.

It was way more convulsive than that band of Rottweilers in the movie "The Omen". The two puppies that he brought out didn't seem to have an issue with us. They wagged their tails and friskily stumbled towards us. But my daughter, frightened by their aggressive mother, clung tightly to me and all I could think was that her young mind was thinking, "This is what you want me to have?" The embarrassed breeder rushed toward this dog trying to calm her down, but it wasn't to be. All bets were off. The dog continued to bark and growl viciously as we headed back towards our vehicle.

The man caught up with us in the driveway. He said "I'm sorry folks, she ain't never acted that way before."

I said "That's okay, I think we're going to have to look for a smaller breed."

He said this next. "You know I think the problem was, she ain't never seen colored folks before."

Exit stage right.......

I thought that that was a crazy and odd situation. But when we finally ended up with our much smaller dog, a Jack Russell Terrier affectionally known as Squirt — we named him Squirt because when he got excited, which was quite often, he'd tinkle a small bit here and there. A lot of folks thought he was called Squirt because he was small.

Well, Squirt was also born in the country. His initial name was actually "Bubba". He was quite friendly during that drive from beyond the suburbs to Pittsburgh's Hill District.

But strangely I noticed over the weeks and months after his arrival that he was actually a racist dog. Now, let me explain. Whenever someone black other than my family was around, he'd go off on them, barking viciously as he grew older, but when he was around white folks, including the mailman he'd wag his tail like "Please take me back to the country with you". We would drive through the Hill District with my windows down (pre-gentrification) — this was back in the late 90's and early 2000's — and Squirt would poke his head out of the window and bark at every single black person he saw. It wasn't until we got to downtown Pittsburgh and he saw all of the mostly caucasian folks occupying the sidewalks and crossways. That's when he relaxed.

I'm not joking, it's the truth. Well, eventually he grew out of that and became a great pet. Of course it helped that we never allowed him to watch the eleven o'clock news.

More recently, as a matter of fact a few months ago, two very good friends visited me. I won't mention their names because I think they were just as embarrassed as I was. I'll just say that they are a married couple devoted to making great art here in Pittsburgh.

Anywho, they were visiting me in Montefiore Hospital in the Select Care section. Oh, and by the way, they are Caucasian. A very important aspect of this short story. So I'm lying there flat on my back and the two of them are sitting bedside when the goodwill dog and the lady that takes her from room to room show up. It was a mixed breed and I was elated to see this dog because I'm a dog lover and had not been around any pets for a while. So I ask the lady the dog's name and then I whistled for the dog to come closer, saying its name. "Here Mary, come here Mary." The dog took one look at me and for the rest of its time in the room it held its head cocked hard to the left and refused to look my way or even acknowledge that I was there. It was very friendly with my guests who could not believe what they were witnessing.

At that point my minimal self-diagnosed Tourette's Syndrome jumped out of my throat and said to the lady, "Is your dog Mary racist?" All four of us were surprised by my question. The woman quickly went into the defense mode for her dog and wanted to have a deeper discussion about race which included her telling me that if she saw a black male with a hoodie on she would cross the street. Anywho it's all on video but because it shows her face, out of respect for her job I chose not to post it on FB.

But this dog, I mean she would not look at me or accept a petting of her fur. I was drugged as hell but my prior experience kept me from being depressed about the whole situation.

I could go on and on about my experiences of peoples' and animals' general fear of the Black male but I'll leave you with this last one.

One bitter Pittsburgh winter's night I had parked on the roof level of an outdoor garage. I entered the elevator and held the door for a fiftyish Caucasian woman who was just behind me. She stopped short of its doors and then made a right and elected to take the stairs. It was one of those moments that shook me. This woman choose to walk down eight flights of steps in the bitter cold because of my skin color.

I was drugged as hell. I once again hated my country all over again and all involved for causing me to have this experience. The sad thing about it is that it will not end in my lifetime and possibly not in my childrens'. And I'll say this. The effects of four hundred years of slavery in the United States will take many more centuries to unravel.

But what gives me hope is like the situation we found ourselves in when 9/11 first happened.

Americans drew together as one. Black Americans felt like we were Americans for real by the way we were treated by whites Americans. Because now there was another enemy to point the finger at.

Perhaps we could have some type of government program where we have some sort of energy transfer so that we could all warm up to each other and accept one another as fellow Americans.

Onward.

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#20 Pills, pills, pills!

Twelve pills in the morning! Wow! That's a lot of pills!

Mistakes happen. We all know that. We've all made them from time to time. But you better be on your toes when a mistake can kill you. I'm sick of pills and shots. It's nonstop all day long when you're in the hospital. I'm up to 34 pills a day, but hey, when they're trying to keep your butt alive you better comply. Hey, look at it this way, aren't we all glad we're not living in the 1800s. Hell, if we were I'd have a nub instead of a left leg.

I give them blood and warm lemonade and they give me Lorna Doones and a juice pouch. I save them for the kids but my raise quietly slides them into her purse. I say nothing because I know she's stocking up for when they visit.

I get at least three different pills for my bowels. One to regulate. Now this was a great pill. It took a few days but once it kicked in I knew that every morning between 7:30 am and 9 am I was sending a brown package down to Alcosan. Well, at least when I was at Montefiore. I'm not sure where it goes all the way out here in Harmarville, but I do know like clockwork it's going out on time and I say "Thank you little pilly".

The second one is to soften, which by the way is greatly appreciated.

Ah yes, I remember that fateful night at Highland Care Center when I could not move what seemed to be the size of a large can of dog food. I remember having a male nurse that night. I remember the vision of him putting on rubber gloves and getting ready to go in. I was crying like a newly indoctrinated prison inmate when suddenly what felt like bite sized Duncan donuts started popping out.

I went from crying to thanking the Lord above and crying tears of happiness and then laughing hysterically. To my relief my body decided that this was the only way to pass this mass. To tell the truth most of my personal relief was that this male nurse did not have to physically remove it. So yes, bring on the pills that will eliminate this scenario and keep me regular.

That third bowel pill is what I call the traffic cop. Like the one cop who used to be downtown directing traffic with the white gloves. I call this pill my "Vic Cianca Pill". Baby Boomers, you remember him.

Well, this pill was to control movement. I don't know how these chemists figure all of this stuff out. I'd hate to be that little mouse or guinea pig they used for this one.

Anywho, lots of pills all day long. Of course, there have to be the pain pills. Well, I refuse to take the narcotic ones. They make me loopy, and believe me when I say loopy, it takes on a whole nuther dimension when the patient has a creative mind. I have a whole section of chronicles that deal with the zone I was in when I was unconscious for five weeks. But that's some other stories that I'm not ready to deal with right now.

So no narcotics for me. Regardless of how well they knock out pain.

This is a list of my current meds. I may have left a few out.

Gabapentin or Neurontin Nerve pain
Iron Supplement: Makes poop black
Ultram Pain: Higher than Tylenol, Lower than Percocet
Proamatine Increase blood pressure
Keflex Anti biotic
Florinef Blood pressure
Vitamin C Supplement
Melatonin Sleep
Miralax Bowels: Keeps you regular
Colace Bowels: Stool softener
Pepcid Antacid
Celebrex Inflammation & pain
Senokot Laxative
Cortef Blood pressure
Florastor Probiotic: Digestive system

And I get a shot in my stomach every morning called "Lovenox". It's a blood thinner to prevent blood clots.

I used to bristle at the sight of all of these pills. I used to think that I could surely not take one or two every day and nothing would really change much. But being in this environment, without the distractions of a normal home life, if you will, I'm able to track my progress and body flow. It has given me a much better understanding and appreciation of medication. Trust me, these doctors that are prescribing these know what the heck they are doing. They know just what these medications are for and how they can help alleviate your bodily issues. Just the other day my meds were brought into my room. I had the nurse leave them on my table. I then went to the bathroom. I had my morning BM. I then washed up and brushed my teeth. I wheeled myself out and went to the closet and got an outfit to wear for the day. I rolled around to the side of my bed and an enormous pain started to emanate from my left hip. I sat there momentarily, thinking it would subside. It did not. It only increased. I climbed into my bed hoping that it would go away. Still no luck. Now keep in mind that what normally takes ten minutes to do now takes me half an hour or more. I looked to my right as I laid in the bed and noticed on my table that my meds were sitting there. A whole ninety minutes had gone by since they were dropped off. My hip that had received two six inch screws felt as though the bone was coming through my skin. I couldn't move. I felt paralyzed. I buzzed for my nurse who came in and helped me take them. I lay in the same spot for close to four hours. Some of the pain subsided but not fully until my next dose mid-afternoon. I missed all of my therapy that day because of this. So yes folks. TAKE YOUR MEDICATION!!!!

Regardless of how well you think you know your body, you will pay for your lack of following directions one way or another.

If you didn't go to school for medicine, then don't act like you did.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned from my experiences in here is to follow directions and take one day at a time.

I've also heard those same lessons from you my Facebook community! Your words, prayers and encouragement have gone a long way in ushering me back to health. You are very much appreciated. I hope that my words can do the same for some.

Onward!

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#21 Little Dude II

My little four-year-old man is super smart. But what is so amazing about him is the way he approaches things. Initially a quiet child who hung in the shadows of the original Little Dude, his older brother Marcus, who will be eight soon, Andre aka Lil Dre has shot into the mainstream of conversation like a fiery meteorite. He does have a minor speech impediment but he doesn't know. Usually when he's on a roll, only his immediate family can understand just what it is that he's saying. But it's his responses that are so hilarious.

Recently my daughter entered the room while he was playing and asked him for a hug. She said "Dre, come give me a hug". He replied "I already did". She said "No you didn't". He said "Yes I did". She said "When?" He replied "I gave you a ghost hug."

And this was even funnier. I showed both of my sons my 12" incision on my stomach. A few days later Marcus was taking a nap on my left side in the hospital bed, so I scooted over to make a little room on my right side for Andre. I said "Little Bubby" — that's his nickname. I said "Little Bubby, come on up here and lay down with us." He said "No". I'm like "Why not?" He said "I don't want to fall into your hole!" It took me a minute to figure out he was talking about my incision. He's too much.

He comes up with responses and sayings that are completely original.

I love it. Being the youngest he's always trying to keep up with Big Bro Marcus and his friends. If we say something that has to do with Marcus only, he'll yell out "Me too! Me too!"

He's hooked on playing video games on his mom's phone. So he'll do or say anything to not stop playing or to get access to it.

He's a pretty good artist as well. He recently drew a picture of our family with big hearts floating above our heads. When asked to identify each person he named everyone and named himself last. He also just so happened to be the biggest person. What does that tell you?

When he was two and a half he had great balancing ability and he had no fear of heights. I would place him on the fireplace mantle or on a ledge on a wall and he would balance himself like a baby Wallenda. Of course I stood as close as I could to him.

He also has a super-strong grip. He was opening bottles at age three.

And he can reach in your hand on one scoop and take everything in it. Popcorn, trail mix, Swedish Fish or whatever. Never leaving any behind.

While he was still in Wifey's stomach we narrowed our choice of first names down to two. "August" after my mentor the great playwright August Wilson and "Andre" after the recently hired new CEO of the August Wilson Center.

Well, you know which name we went with, but at one point while visiting August's widow Constanza Romero in Seattle, over dinner I informed her that I wanted to name our soon-to-be-birthed son after her late husband.

However, "Andre" eventually won out.

We choose Andre for a few reasons. For one, with the way Pittsburgh politics are in the African-American community there's no way that the local upper echelon would even consider hiring someone without a degree to lead a theatre program in such an esteemed building, regardless of their experience or abilities. Never mind the fact that August himself was self taught.

Pittsburghers also hold out-of-towners on a higher plateau than their own local folks. So when Mr. Guess came to town as the second out-of-towner to take over as leader of the center, people were split on their early assessment of him.

I met him a few times occasionally at events and I kept my judgment in check. He seemed quiet but extremely focused during interviews.

It wasn't until the very last Onyx Awards that were held at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts where he was the guest speaker.

I sat at my table with my family and several theatre folks. As he was introduced I expected to hear the same ole boring pledges and promises of making the center the best it can be yada, yada, yada.

But to my surprise from the gate it seemed like just about everything that came out of his mouth was dynamic and related to my own personal journey.

We both attended college briefly in pre-med programs, we both loved jazz, we both had a friendship with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, although his was more substantial. And we both had a deep love for our family. There were even more connections but those are the ones I can remember.

We chatted briefly after the award ceremony, ending with him handing me his card and asking me to give him a call to arrange for lunch.

Normally most folks want to be cool and they'll wait awhile before following up with a call. But something inside me, my inner voice if you will, that same voice that calmed me down immediately after my accident, this time the voice said "You better call this brother ASAP!"

So I called him first thing Monday morning and his administrative assistant set up our lunch date.

We had an extremely great lunch. Great conversation. I've always enjoy meeting intelligent Black men and growing from that association and at this point I felt what I like to call a bump in my universe. The last time I had a bump in my universe was in 1998 when I met and spent most of that summer with the late great August Wilson.

But Mr. Guess, Mr. Andre Kimo Stone Guess, moved me in such a way that I knew in my heart that yes, there was indeed hope for the AWC.

Now this story can go on for quite awhile but it's not so much about Mr. Guess but about my naming our son after him.

I was eventually hired by Mr. Guess to head up the theatre department at the AWC. It was a highlight of my career and a great surprise because this gentleman from "out of town" leapfrogged over all of the local BS and made a choice based on my experience.

Once my wife and I named our second son after him there were mutters of negativity. But I paid it no attention. I knew we had made the right decision.

Plus Andre is one of those cool names and leads to great nicknames. "Dre", "Dreskeeter", "A Dre" etc, etc....

Plus the young character Carter Redwood played in my very first play "When the Water Turns Clear", his name was Andre. And my Godmother Gloria Harbin, her son was named Andre. So basically it was a win-win situation.

So Andre it was. I love this little guy. He has a brilliant sense of humor and he's all boy. Once he was potty-trained he'd kick us out of the bathroom and tell us to close the door.

He was addicted to juice pouches for quite awhile, and oh! He has an ongoing fascination with of all things rubber.

Much like Linus and his blanket. His thing is rubber. There were times when he carried around three or four items made of rubber. And if we went somewhere he refused to leave the house unless he had at least all of his collected rubber items.

The list usually included: a Wii controller cover, a deflated ballon, rubber bands, some old McDonalds rubber toy and a red rubber Appleton Estate Rum ice tray.

Yes, all true. As he tells it "I like way it feel". He would take several rubber items to school each day and place them gently into the bottom of his Pre-K locker. He likes the way they feel, hey I'll take it. It was much better than the way my nephew held on to his blanky. When my nephew was five they were trying desperately to ween him off of his blanket. Now he loooved his blanket. When he got it after any amount of absence he would first sniff it and then rub it on his cheek and then hold it tightly. Well, one day we went to pick him up and his mother comes out to the truck and hands my wife something really small thru the window and whispers "Only give this to him if he ask for his blanky."

So we pull off and I'm like "What was that all about?" My wife laughs and opens her hand and opens up a square piece of fabric. They had cut a square out of his blanky in an attempt to ween him away from it. I'm like "Really? Really?" They done cut my mans blanky into little squares. Too funny. He eventually ask for it. I observed him through my rear view mirror and like clockwork he sniffed it, ran it across his cheek and then started flipping it around playing with it. Extremely funny to witness.

As I watch our young sons and nephew go through the paces of being kids, just having fun, getting into trouble, being bad, laughing and hugging their parents, I can't help but be sad at times when it comes to thinking about their futures. Oftentimes my wife and I have considered moving to another city or even country. But it's bad everywhere. I couldn't even imagine the depth of grief and heartache one would have when losing a child to gun violence.

One of the hardest challenges that comes with raising a young child these days is keeping them safe. I'm well aware that our two sons and my nephew are much like myself in that we exist on the endangered species list.

A list shared by rogue police officers and racist folks who are in position to deny them safe passage, jobs or education based on the color of their skin. It's an ongoing deeply-rooted issue in our country that is not going away anytime soon. At least not in my lifetime and sadly possibly not theirs.

All that my wife and I can do is to raise them the best way we know how. Make sure that they have the best education possible, they stay healthy and that they honor their grandmother and parents and treat their siblings with kindness.

When I drop them off at school each morning I leave them with these things:

Learn something today, don't let anyone put their hands on you and treat people with kindness.

If we adults could only take that into the world with us each day, things could possibly change in our lifetime.

Onward!

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#22 L.B.P.

It starts out like a low fog as it rises up your body, across your chest. You say in an urgent whisper "Please take my blood pressure". It hovers for awhile until your results are ready. Then once it is announced it appears to be satisfied, but only briefly. It continues its slow assault in your body. It gives you just enough time to be wheeled back to your room, semi-conscious, sweating and speaking at slow unintelligible clips.

This is why there were no chronicles last week. I was in the clutches of yet another unexpected side effect or physical dilemma if you will. Low Blood Pressure shut me down for a good part of the week. With attacks happening Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was left dazed, distraught and fearful the remainder of the week.

Wednesday was the worst. With my family present I was wheeled back to the room where once stabilized I had what would be considered the early stages of a nervous breakdown.

Luckily my mother knew how to handle such pity parties. She refused to allow me to feel bad about my condition and smothered my "Why me"s with "Trust in Jesus"s. It worked too. Later I apologized to my eight-year-old nephew for falling apart in front of him, but I did explain to him that I was scared and that those emotions emanated from that experience. And that I never had experienced the effects of low blood pressure.

It wasn't a great feeling. They now have me on additional medication that seems to work. In addition I must now wear a corset type belt around my waist whenever I leave my bed. They say it will keep more of my blood in my upper body which will help stabilize my blood pressure.

Friday with my family present I was able to stand unassisted at the parallel bars.

The first time I stood for 1 minute. The second time for 1 minute and 15 seconds.

Saturday I spent most of the morning calling friends in other cities. Hearing their voices warmed my heart. Later in the afternoon my wife brought the boys out and again my heart was warmed by their presence.

I also had plenty of surprise visits over the weekend.

Sunday was capped off with a visit by my big brother Rick and his son Lil Rick. They put me through several exercises late at night and then we sat back and told my nephew Carl R. Southers III about the good old days growing up in the H.I.LL. Story after story flowed from Big Rick's and my mouths late into the evening. Yes, it was a great visit and a great weekend.

So here we go into another week. Let's see what it brings.

Onward!

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#23 Ash

I sat behind the white sheet which seemed to be routinely placed for husbands, boyfriends or plain ole soon-to-be fathers. I sat there and listened to light chatter and then metal objects being removed from what appeared to sound like a metal tray. Then quiet. With my head tilted downward I watched in horror at what seemed to be a river of blood cascading to the floor below.

After several moments a nurse suddenly appeared off to the side of the stretched sheet. With a blank face she said, "Would you like to see your daughter?" "Yes," I nervously replied. She stared blankly at me momentarily and then disappeared behind the sheet.

How could this be, I thought to myself. I had not heard any crying. Aren't babies supposed to cry when they come into the world? This time two nurses quietly appeared holding a bundled child. It was my daughter Ashley. She was quiet but alive. They brought her closer. I was immediately shocked by her extremely purple skin tone. I was told it was from a lack of oxygen but that she was alright.

I asked how my wife was doing. I was told she lost quite a bit of blood but she was expected to make a full recovery.

As I sit here and recount that nervous day, I can't help to think about my current situation. How in the blink of an eye my accident produced all of the same surgeries my daughter and former wife had endured.

Ashley went on to have open heart surgery at nine months of age. She bears a scar down her chest much like my recent exploratory incision, but mine was from the navel up.

My former wife and I both have a c-section scar. Mine from my pelvic surgery from the accident and hers from bringing Ashley into the world and our lives.

Ashley and I also share the experience of having similar scars on our backs. Hers from a spinal fusion two years ago to correct back problems that have haunted her for years. My scar from a spinal fusion which was another of my many surgeries that arose due to the accident. So you can say Ash and I both have front and back zippers.

Ashley is our miracle child. Outliving the doctors' and health care professionals' early expectations, she's fought at every turn, and continues to amaze us. When I bristled at the idea of having a scar on my knee from a proposed knee surgery, it was she that I drew strength from to schedule my surgery. I say to schedule. I ended up canceling due to frightful news of others outcomes. And then came the accident and its visual aftermath which has quickly ushered me away from any fears of scars.

Ash has a calming effect for me personally whenever she's near or enters my room. Believe me when I say, I have been stressed through the roof during this most tragic time in my life.

There have been moments early on when my body was like that of a rag doll and Ashley's angelic hand has held my hand and made me feel whole. She has warmed my heart in moments where I felt as though I was sinking into an endless dark hole emotionally and it was her touch that was my lifeline back into this world.

She is truly a gift from God and we thank the Lord for bringing her into our lives and making us a believer in

....... miracles.

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#24 Good Bowel Caller

One of the things you quickly learn when a public setting becomes your temporary home, is how to shut down all avenues of possible embarrassments. I'm talking about being in a hospital. Where your wardrobe consist of a gown with no back, and although it's been washed regularly, it's still been worn by hundreds of patients in the past.

I guess the most important one of these possible embarrassing situations would be having an unexpected bowel movement. Especially when your fourth grade teacher is sitting inches away sharing with you one of those funny fourth grade stories that we never seem to remember.

There's nothing more embarrassing than having company while enduring the aroma of your own creation.

And when you're bedridden with minimal body movement you just can't get rid of the evidence. So yes, this is how early bonding skills with your nurses assistants come in handy.

A good nurse or assistant will come in and clear the room of all visitors kindly directing them to the lounge area, that is if the change of the air quality hasn't already.

Now, this is a scenario that I'm sure plays out at most hospitals and care homes on a daily basis, but luckily it hasn't for me. To ensure that it doesn't I've created what I like to call my "Early action bowel alert system". It's basically knowing just when to signal for help or to make your way to the potty. We all get bodily urges that come at different levels. Some we pass off as potential flatulence and some are basically so minimal that we don't pay too much attention to them at all.

It's a special ability to decipher just what these low level signals could actually be. It's a good balance of understanding what meals you've had over the last eighteen hours, how much activity as far as body movement you've had within the last twelve hours and when your last bowel movement was.

I've been batting a thousand in this area since my arrival and have reached the plateau of being an actual "Good Bowel Caller".

Now I will admit there were a few issues when I first arrived, but I was heavily medicated and I had all kinds of different tubes attached to each of my orifices. I considered those early days pre-season.

One of the good things about being a Good Bowel Caller is that the nurses and nurses assistants really appreciate you not wasting their time by calling for bed pans at the last minute and arriving a little too late to have to clean up the mess. Oh, but you should know that as embarrassing at it may seem, the mature and experienced nurses and assistants have no issue whatsoever cleaning you up. They have done this so many times that it's routine and besides ... it's their job.

So if it happens to you don't spend too much time worrying about pissing them off. Excuse both puns, but your business to them is nothing but business all day and night long.

So learn how to detect those early warnings and you too may be able to join the ranks of ....... a Good Bowel Caller.

Onward!

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#25 Hank II

It all started out with a simple request.

You see they had a condom catheter on Hank, and for some reason his beard was being stretched to where it was starting to hurt.

For those of you that don't know, and I certainly didn't before this unfortunate episode. A condom catheter is just what it sounds like. It's an external catheter that attaches from the outside covering up a mans private part. In this case ... Hank.

This rubber device stretched from the tip of his head to the base of his neck, and it was extremely tight.

So I called to my wife "Neese! this is hurting!" As I pointed down towards the Hank zone, she quickly came over to take a look. Knowing that assisting me in something like this, although highly personal, she knew to call in the experts and basically let the people that her insurance was paying for handle it.

So she pushed the little red button near my bed and soon in came a CNA (Certified Nurses Assistant) My wife and I overlapped explaining the situation to her. She was a twenty-something African-American woman. She said "I'll be right back" and she exited to go get help.

Hank listed to his side trying to escape like an embarrassed Houdini in a see thru straight jacket whose clock had run out midway through his act.

The CNA returned with another African-American woman CNA aaand with a pair of scissors.

Shock entered my mind but the potential relief of my stressful situation outweighed the threat of a misguided pair of scissors. Well, I quickly learned that I crapped out on my decision to keep my mouth shut. The overanxious CNA had given Hank his very first scar. Although thin in nature, it still drew blood. A thin line of crimson liquid caused horror in the minds of this young lady and her co-worker who I noticed had conveniently slid her hands into her pockets.

Frustrated and slightly embarrassed she quickly apologized and went for more help. Hank laid there helpless, suffocating and bleeding. My wife helped me sit up to get a closer look.

I leaned in closer and attempted to gently pull pubic hairs that were held hostage under that same hellish condition that imprisioned Hank. I had managed to free a few, when suddenly the CNA returned with the Head Nurse. (No pun intended.)

He was a white male in his early to mid forties. For some reason he reminded me of Al Bundy. And it didn't take long for him to do an Al Bundy move. No sooner than the two CNA's briefed him on what was going on he took a few quick looks at the situation and then grabbed hold of Hank and yanked the external condom catheter off with one sweeping motion, and in the process tearing Hanks lower neck wide open!

Blood quickly rush out as everyone panicked! My wife took pictures and I was just plain numb.

A million ILL thoughts ran through my mind as to why he would do such a thing and in such a careless manner.

Keep in mind I was bedridden and could barely sit up let alone throw a right hook. I had spent all of my recent energy trying to free pubic hairs.

I laid there helpless with thick tears rimming my eyes. I softly muttered in a hurt tone, "Why would you do that?"

He quietly stood there with a stupid look on his face. The CNAs went about the business of cleaning Hank off and disposing of the catheter.

Hank gave me one last look before they covered him up. It was the look of a defeated boxer being tended to by his cornerman, who realized that his paycheck wouldn't be all that much.

Did that make sense? I just kinda went with it. I thought it did, but it may have been a tad too long. Nevertheless, Hank was in a losing predicament. Hurt and bloodied, he was better off left alone to heal.

A few days later I asked that Head Nurse if he had written up an incident report. He said, "No, but we took pictures. You can have copies". A week later I asked him again about his writing a report. Again he said he did not.

A week later I asked him one last time before I was transported to a rest home to heal, this time informing him that my attorney had requested a report, and this time he totally ignored me.

I still could not sit up without assistance and when I arrived at the rest home for a short stay I chose to actually get some rest and give my left leg a chance to heal.

The leg was once again the main concern. It needed to heal so that they could remove the huge metal fixator and I could begin rehab work on it.

And like the Head Nurse I too had forgotten about Hank. He wasn't in any pain and had seemed to return to the deep sleep that he had been in prior to that unfortunate mishap.

Those two weeks came and went. My many visitors were a welcome distraction from my bodily woes. As we inched closer to my departure, I couldn't help but think about this great facility that I was headed to, and the prospects of my walking again soon.

Finally I was transported by ambulance to this rehab hospital up Route 28. Upon arrival, my immediate goal was to work on my upper body strength so that I could do more for myself, including washing and looking at my wounds close up.

In this new environment it didn't take long to whip my non-injured body parts into shape. Soon I was able to not only sit up but also able to put my right shoe and sock on. It was a great feeling to be slightly independent once again.

One late evening I was giving Hank a light sponge bath and something told me to check his lower neck area for possible damage. I stretched and twisted him to the side, and to my horror I saw the remnants of the Head Nurses handiwork. Hank had a lengthy white scar more than half way around his neck and it was very thick. Nothing that a sun tan would diminish. My attorney instructed me to summon the staff urologist, who showed up a few days later. He was an older Indian man who listened to Hank's story before examining him.

He concluded with the fact that Hank's injury would not prevent him from performing. As you would imagine, this was good news. Although scarred badly, he was good to return to action.

Well, that was a sigh of relief. Hank had been on the sidelines for well over two months at that point. He may had even suffered a concussion from the accident, but I know for sure that traces of the heavy narcotics were still deeply embedded in him. So although he got the okay from this doctor, I decided to let him be and keep him on the bench or well "under cover" for the time being.

I'm not too happy about his new appearance but luckily he doesn't have a career where it would be noticeable.

Onward!

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#26 - Vampire Attack

I was awakened early one morning by a scraggly knock at the door. It sounded like three sets of knuckles scraping across my door. Like whoever or whatever was at the end of those wretched knuckles had no knowledge of how to properly knock on a door by bringing their hand and arm back and then proceeding forward.

"Come in!" I yelled back at the door as I struggled to turn the light on. I looked at the institutionalized clock on the wall and it was four fifteen AM! My goodness, I thought to myself, they're bringing my meds earlier and earlier.

Suddenly a very small woman wobbled into my room.

"I'm here for blood. My name is Roveenia. Did they not tell you I was coming?" Oh my goodness. A little vampire lady was at the foot of my bed at 4:15 am asking for blood. "No," I said, "And not at no four in the morning." She grumbled something as she moved closer and grabbed my arm. "They should have told you" she said in a much clearer voice. "They want me to do test on you." What kind of test, I asked her. She told me that they want to determine what the cause may be for my low blood pressure. They wanted to draw some blood and then inject a medicine in a different area of my arm. Then they would wait for thirty minutes and draw blood again. Aaaaand then repeat the process again.

I told her calmly, "You're a vampire." She giggled in a voice that Disney would have paid top dollar for. She continued to chuckle as she went about the business of wrapping that rubber material around my upper arm.

Most folks struggle to locate a good spot to draw blood on my arm. I told her this but before I ended my sentence she had half a tube filled. Yep, she was definitely from Transylvania.

She then quickly located another suitable spot and administered the medicine.

"I'll be back in 30 minutes," she said as she disappeared out my door.

I wanted to go back to sleep so badly but I was afraid I'd wake to an image of her at the base of my bed with her teeth sunk into my ankle.

I did dose off occasionally as I tried my best to keep my guard up.

My weariness increased as the thirty minutes wound down to zero. I tried my best to keep my eyes trained on the door but I nodded off now for what seemed to be an eternity. In my sleepiness I felt a presence in the room.

I opened my eyes quickly! There at the base of my bed was an outline of an individual. As my eyes slowly cleared I could see that this time it was not her.

My worst fears were realized, she sent her warlock instead to finish the deed. He was much taller than her and appeared as though he never missed a meal. He breathed heavily as he slowly approached my bedside.

"I was asked to continue the procedure," he said.

I quickly looked left to my window. Yes, as I suspected the sunrise was making itself known. Warlocks, I understand, could withstand those early rays a tad bit longer. I could be wrong; however, I said nothing and complied with his wishes.

He scanned my arm for signs of her earlier work. He struggled to find a good vein. He started to grow impatient when suddenly she appeared out of the shadows and guided him to a proper spot.

I lay there in shock as he found a hidden river and quickly filled his collection tube. She then located another spot and he injected more medicine.

"I'm so sorry Mr. Southers for the inconvenience," she whispered.

"We're done for now ... we'll be back in another thirty minutes." No sooner than they exited, my nurse entered with a needle drawn and poised to strike.

"I have your lovidox, it's your blood thinner, remember? We must do this twice a day."

I lifted my shirt up and she stabbed me in my belly.

Welcome to my world. Enjoy LIFE Folks...

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#27 My Mode

I've had many visitors over the past four months. As many as twelve a day and as few as one. But not a day has gone by without someone dropping in on me, and I thank you all for that. It has certainly made my days a lot smoother and more comforting. One thing that has also been constant is the shady mood of my room with my having my shades drawn most of the time. When asked by friends and family, "Why do you keep it so dark in here?", my response is that I really just want to be in an elongated chill mode, like this whole situation is a long dream and I'm weaning myself off of it. Most folks, I'm sure, think that I'm in a depressive state of mine. Well yes, I can understand that being a given for anyone who's been through such a tragic injury such as I have. However, and I know most will find this hard to believe, but I have been getting through each and every day with a clear mind as my health improves.

What has helped me is prayer, my wife's and my mother's constant care, holding my daughter's hand, some great nursing care, my many guest and yes YOU, my Facebook family! Your responses to my Chronicles have been both therapeutic and very much appreciated.

You all have shown so much love and wrapped your online arms around me. This is what holds me most nights and through the painful days. As my health progresses and I work towards getting home safe and without pain, it is my hope to reach out to each and every one of you.

So this is my set up, my routine if you will. I keep my shades drawn most of the time. I don't go outside at all. I did once and that's when I had a whiteout: my low blood pressure attack. Refer to Chronicle #22 - L.B.P.

I watch very little TV except for the Pirates games and sometimes the news, but it's so negative. It's like I have myself in a elongated time out. At night I keep the shower light on only with half of the shower curtain drawn. This gives just the right amount of a soft glow light into the hallway near my door.

There is also a soft blue light that emanates from the air pump for my mattress that's attached to the exterior side of the foot of my bed. It bounces off of the wall and spreads just enough to leave a nice blue calming blanket of light.

I really enjoy my late evenings. I can relax and write. I also have my little red button near my bed in case I need a nurse.

I talk to the Creator occasionally, thanking him for allowing me to live.

I refuse to get mad anymore but to focus on moving forward. I believe I'm getting close to understanding the purpose of this all. Stay tuned.

Onward!

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#28 Enaid

I want to tell you about one of my occupational therapists who was really a trip. Let's just call her Enaid so I don't have to use her real name. Here's the 1st clue for you and to also help me stay focused on the story, and her weird vibe: I chose to use all of the letters in her name to spell ... Enaid.

Enaid was a tall white woman who seemed to be in her late fifties or early sixties. For some reason she reminded me of Julia Child. I want to say she was a good therapist but some of her past remarks prevent me. But hey, since this is my chronicles where the truth must be told and this is going out there into the stratosphere, then I just hafta tell it like it is.

She is a good therapist. She's good and knowledgeable about her craft. I'll say that. I can't deny that she was good at what she was trained to do as far as the mechanics of the body, but she had this uncanny way of saying some of the most cold-hearted things like she had no conscious. Her timing is off and she talks constantly and when you try to interject a thought she doesn't acknowledge anything that you say, she just continues on with her agenda.

I usually try to put negative things either on the back burner or out of my brain altogether. In this case there's this one thing that she did early on that I can't remember. I didn't write about it so it's probably lost. It may pop up at some time in the future. Usually I write about negative stuff to purge it from my system. In this case I guess it's just lost for now. So let's talk about the stuff I do remember.

Because of my limitations at the time, I required help getting dressed: getting my left sock and shoe on, my pants put on and pulled up. Well, on this one particular day Enaid came in to assist me. This was routine because I was headed to Occupational Therapy. They usually come in to help you get ready for your session because morning prep is all part of O/T. So I was all dressed and in my wheelchair. She went to help put on the foot holder on my wheelchair and apparently my injured left foot was in the way, so she kicked it to move it. Pain shot up my leg to my knee! I screamed in pain! "WHY DID YOU DO THAT!".

Now that was the physical pain. Here goes the mental. Her response was "That foot can't feel anything." I'm like, "What are you talking about? THAT HURT!"

I explained to her that I felt it big time. She never apologized. I was pissed. We went on to our therapy session. I didn't want to work with her at all.

Hey! I just remembered what the other thing was she said! See, it happened after the foot kick incident.

So we get to therapy. And I'm sitting there at this table, depressed that I have to be around her. I'm sitting there in my wheelchair with my head down. And she's talking a mile a minute like she does. And then she says this. "Amputation isn't all that bad, it relieves a lot of pain for some folks, and they make some great prosthetics nowadays. There was this one guy who..." I'm like "What?!!!" "Hold up! Why are you telling me this? I don't want to hear this! What is your problem?" She stands there as though she's said nothing wrong. I unlocked my wheelchair wheels. Exit stage left...

This was only the first episode of Enaid's insensitive remarks. I complained to everyone who would listen, even the housekeeping person.

Later that day she came into my room crying and apologized. Her crying made me think it was sincere. I accepted her apology and we continued on for the next several weeks without incident.

However our peaceful days together would soon come to a crashing end. You see from what I've learned these old school Occupational Therapists have a different way of dealing with patients.

I'm assuming Enaid was trained back in the seventies. And back then they worked mostly in mental hospitals.

So their training centered around working with mentally disturbed individuals. Therefore they had a whole different approach to their craft.

Fast forward forty-plus years and now they're working in these all-in-one rehab centers, interacting with normal folks.

But they haven't had a brush up on protocol and just plain ole good manners. They've been used to skipping over being kind and not even caring about their patients' feelings because when one is suffering from a mental illness it's a world that they've never experienced, and because of that they are detached emotionally from that reality.

So now I find myself being cared for by an individual who has no clue about my sensitivities. So here goes our next negative encounter.

We're towards the end of one of our routine forty-five minute sessions. We had about ten minutes left. She asks me what do I want to do before I head to my Physical Therapy session. I say I could start warming up, stretching so that I can go right into some of my therapeutic exercises when I get there.

I suggest we do what my P/T and I call "The Hope Exercise." She's like, "What's that?" I tell her it is an exercise that we do with my left foot that was severely damaged and cannot lift up. We do it to hopefully get my damaged nerves to snap back into place. She says "Well you know, Mark, sometimes it takes up to three hundred years for nerves to regenerate, and we all know that nobody lives that long". I'm like "What? Why are you saying that? Don't you understand I go to sleep at night on the strength and wavelength of my wife's and my mother's prayers. I have hundreds of people praying for me around the clock, and I sleep peacefully knowing this. Now I have you in my ear with this negativity." She says without hesitation. "You really need to be an adult about this". Fam, I can't go on because this chronicle would end up being rated R. So, yes those are some of the true raw experiences that make up my daily chronicles. I bite my tongue most times and take note. I try my best to learn from these experiences and more forward in a positive manner.

Oh yeah, here's the 2nd clue for her name. Let's just say she was a little ... backwards.

Onward...

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#29 Heavy Handed Nurses

I know some of my Chronicles have painted a dim picture of my caretakers. But more times than not it's easier to focus on and talk about the bad things, even more so than the good. Let me say this. The good folks in this Medical Care industry far outweigh the bad. I've had some great experiences with some really good nurses.

But now there are some things that require a gentle touch, such as putting on my left shoe which has my foot brace attached to it. Very few nurses are able to do it smoothly and without adding additional pain to my already damaged foot. Sometimes if one of those softer-touch nurses are not on duty that day, then I'm out of luck.

On a day like that I may elect not to wear my brace at all just to avoid the trauma drama. This is where my acting skills have to come in. So as not to hurt anyone's feelings, I'd say things like, "I'm going to just let my foot get some air today" or "Can we wait for awhile? I have some slight nerve pain."

I usually tell this to the heavy-handed nurses. There's a few at every facility. I mean they can really be rough. They're usually big-boned woman who really mean well. It's just that their sensitivity meter isn't working. But they do have their pros and cons. Putting on my left shoe was a con because it required a gentle touch. Let me tell you, I cannot count the multiple times when a heavy-handed nurse just jammed that shoe on my foot. But when it comes to something like getting you off of a bed pan and cleaning you up they're a pro.

They'll give you a great wipe each and every time. Because they're so hard at what they do they'll get you clean with maybe just one or two forced wipes.

You hafta know just what nurse to ask for certain things. Some are good at gross things and some aren't. Some are better with the delicate things. These nurses run the gamut of skills and emotions.

You have the old school nurses and the new school ones. I remember this incident with this one old school nurse.

I thought she was great because she was all about business. She came in and knocked out what needed to be done like clockwork. She was an older white woman in her early sixties. She was regimented. I mean, it felt like she may have been in the service or something. Like she was a former marine nurse or maybe just a marine, period. A drill sergeant or something. When she walked into my room I felt like I needed to hop to attention and salute her.

I liked her. I thought she was great. One day she said to me, "You know, I'd really like to clean your leg." I'm like, "Sure, go ahead. That would be great."

Now please keep in mind that when this episode I'm about to tell you about took place, I was still flat on my back with minimal movement. And from my vantage point I couldn't see past my knee cap on my left leg.

No one had ever washed my lower left leg before because it had that big metal external fixator attached to it and they didn't want the pins to get wet and possibly cause an infection. I knew that the skin was dry and dirty, so when she offered to clean it, I'm like in my mind saying "Hell yeah! have at it!" I mentioned to her that they didn't want the pins to get wet. No sooner than I got those words out of my mouth she was steady at it.

She used a mixture of saline and hydrogen peroxide on gauze and wiped large areas with firm determined strokes. And then it happened. There were four scabs that covered the deep wounds where the bones had come through my skin during the accident.

She wiped them clean off. It didn't hurt one bit because I was medicated. But as soon as she did it I felt something was wrong. I could see only the one that was above my knee cap closer to me. I panicked because I remember my wife telling me not to let anyone mess with those scabs, and now they were all gone.

I timidly mentioned to the nurse after the deed was done that my wife didn't want those scabs touched. Without missing a beat she said "They were old and needed to go, now your skin can breath and heal faster". I was like okay, sounds like a good plan to me.

She dried my leg and then rubbed on an very liberal amount of triple biotic ointment. My leg looked like it was dipped in lard. When my wife arrived a short time later she was absolutely horrified. She freaked out! Where is this #%€>•¥#%^*€£* Nurse! Then she was pissed at me for letting her do it.

I didn't think is was that big of a deal until my wife took a picture of my leg that was out of view and showed it to me. It looked like I was in a war. It was pretty bad. She ended up reporting her for using outdated practices. My wife got a letter in the mail informing her that the nurse in question was retrained in wound care management.

I was on the fence because I thought she was a very good nurse, but I could see my wife's point that sometimes you have to speak up when you think some practices seem outdated.

Update! My wife is telling me that she was there in the room when this all happened. I can only go off of my memory, which I will admit at this time was a little hazy. So imagine it either way or both.

Onward!

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#30 Origin of the Chronicles

There came a time during my earliest days of consciousness where the slow information that I was being feed by all, revealed to me that the pertinent news of my sure demise was kept locked up in an unreachable place.

That the hospital was informing my friends and the general public that I was not there. Which overly complicated the desire for my friends to know, to really know if I was near death or alive and kicking.

Given the option of no information at all, my friends and the public as a whole were left to fear the worst. To imagine in their momentarily fragile minds just how bad things were. How would they react to the worst possible news. Whether to put their black suit in the cleaners, or gently offering themselves to my mother and wife to be considered as a pall bearer or to even imagine witnessing a closed casket funeral.

I'm quite sure it was that bad in their minds.

Although I've publicly supported my wife's decision to do so, I do understand the grief that it had caused so many.

I'll say this simply so that all can understand my dilemma. Plain and simply, relationships are tough. From my experience and the understanding of others, both of known unions and of public figures, it has been my observation that it's an extremely difficult situation for a combination of two to make it, at least to where they've both reached the summit of happiness together.

Their family backgrounds, their religion, their prior experiences both joyful and sad have molded them into individuals that now must make a decision to march on strongly or drag themselves into a situation where sometimes they must leave behind traditions and understandings of life that were not only deeply embedded into their being but were also so dear to them.

They make these sacrifices in an attempt to please their mate in hopes for a great union and a better life.

Sometimes these transitions never fully materialize, and they are left as half their selves, unable to firmly stand within their relationships, thus living in a fractured, not fully manifested union.

Without going much further down this dark road I will reel myself back in from those potentially murky shark-infested waters.

What was at play, my friends, was a difference of opinions. I'm quite sure had I been conscious there certainly would have been a different outcome.

My wife's decision not to allow people including our two young sons to see me unconscious with multiple tubes stuck in every orifice of my mangled helpless emaciated body was a magnificent decision. In her words, "I didn't want people to go out into the world speaking death on my husband". She didn't want people to go out saying to their circle of friends and family, "Man, Mark looked really bad, I don't think he's going to make it."

Yes, it was that bad. She didn't want scores of people to be messengers of death. Speaking words of negativity, thus creating an atmosphere, a dark cloud if you will, hovering over me that would cause the multiple prayers of my wife's gathered prayer warriors much more difficulty to reach the heavens.

So there. We had a potential clash of ideas, but due to my unconsciousness she won out, as she should. It was her decision to make in my absence, and please know that I wholeheartedly support it.

However, as I became conscious and realized the pain that most of my friends experienced, I decided that all that I could do in its aftermath would be to keep everyone abreast of my recovery process.

My wife is more of a private person than I, and I respect that. However I also must follow my heart. I understand that my chronicles have grown to a point where they've not only helped myself, but other individuals as well. That while laying it all out there for people to see, from the brutal realities of my injuries to the most gentle of subjects, while I know that they may have assisted in my emotional rehab, they may also be more difficult for my significant other to digest.

I had a choice to make as a man and as an artist, and my wife, although apprehensive, does support me. And for that I'm truly grateful.

Onward!

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#31 Here we go Vertigo!

It comes quickly at every sharp turn of the head. It's like a horror film when you see slight glimpses of the monster or alien, building up to that one powerful scene when you finally see the horrific monster standing there before you.

I've had vertigo many times before. But nothing lasting this long. The very first time it hit me, I had stood up from my bed after a good night's rest and it was as if my body had fallen off a cliff. I froze as my limp body fell backwards. Luckily my bed was there to catch me.

My mother has had vertigo for many years. Initially we were like "Yeah mom, sure, the room is spinning".

I gladly thanked her later for her vivid descriptions of her experiences, which ultimately prepared me for my first exposure.

When I hit the bed, l watched the room spin violently. It was as though I had an all day pass to Kennywood and I was forced to ride against my will. There were no lines and I kept getting pushed onto that spinning ride again and again. I lay there helplessly on my bed with nothing to do but angrily laugh at this new experience. As soon as the room came to a halt, I got up and went on with my day.

I've heard folks say both "Close your eyes" or "It's not good to close your eyes". I do what works for me. I close my eyes and I ride it out in the dark. Pretty much like I do during the rare times that I do go on rides at the amusement parks. When these bouts of vertigo do hit, I slowly open my eyes when I sense that the ride has ended.

I can handle the slowdown, I just can't handle the speedup and the full blast of it.

My understanding is that there are crystals in your ears, and when they are jolted out of place then vertigo sets in. Or in my case this time around, according to my doctor, it is brought on by having a bad cold.

My mother told me that she had her vertigo problem solved by visiting a specialist that had her lie down and they then tilted her head back and shifted her head to different angles.

They continued moving her head around until eventually her symptoms dissipated.

I don't know about doing all of that. I was told that there is a prescription drug that you can take that will bring it to a screeching halt, but you are supposed to take it only after it starts.

Well, how the heck is that going to work if you're driving or out mountain climbing or something? It would be hard to pull over once the parkway started spinning around. I remember once when I was having a minor bout with it, it had reared its dizzy head several times in the last few days, and then one day I was driving through that maze called Robinson Town Centre in my late Chevy Suburban, R.I.P.

When I approached a red light, I quickly leaned my seat all the way back to see just what my kids were cracking up about on the flip-down TV screen. Well, that sudden movement was just enough to set the vertigo in motion. The interior of the vehicle quickly started spinning in a circular motion, much like those paint booths that used to be at Kennywood. Do you remember those? They were on the left hand side when you first came in. Just past the seated cowboy and across from the arcade. Remember they would put these 5"x7" blank black cards down inside this machine and then you could squeeze and squirt bottled paint on them as they spun.

Yeah, it was something like that. Anywho, I'm assuming that the red light shifted to green based on the glaring horns of the vehicles directly behind me. With my eyes closed I slowly sat up and struggled to put my gear shift into park and then activate my hazard lights.

Yes, it was indeed a hazard. I wasn't going nowhere. I sat there and listened to Spongebob in the dark until everything settled down. At that time I could only imagine how devastating and catastrophic things could have quickly escalated to, had I attempted to navigate my vehicle, or had the V monster pounced on me while I was in motion.

That's the one thing that is so crazy about this latest bout, as much stuff as I've been through recently you would think I'd get a free pass on these types of health issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with my May 11th accident. But hey, I'm a big boy. Pile 'em on me, O Merciful One!

And now for my positive heart-warming ending. I came out of our bathroom on the second floor yesterday and my four-year-old, Andre, was standing there near the top of the steps. He was shocked to see me standing so tall. He had been used to seeing me either lying in a hospital bed or more recently on the couch for the past nine months, so it was a rare sight for him to see me unexpectedly standing in front of him like that.

And I should add, I had just returned home from working out of town for the past ten days. He held his little hand out to assist me much like he had observed his big brother do on several occasions. This time however, Marcus, his eight-year-old brother, was nowhere to be found. In fact no one was. Instead of taking his hand for assistance I steadied myself, opened my arms for him. He slowly approached and I bent down and picked him up. He was surprised to be lifted to such a high height for what must have been for the first time post-accident. I held him tightly as he rested his head on my shoulder, and I slowly made my way down the hall.

Yeah, I think I'll break out of that "Men never go to the doctors" mode and get these crystals in my head adjusted.

I don't want to miss out on any more of those potential beautiful moments.

Onward!

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#32 In the Blink of an Eye

Four months have passed since I was cut out of my truck and my mangled body was rushed to Presby Hospital. I've been transferred from several locations as my condition improves. I'm currently at a rehab/hospital facility. I've been here for the last month and a half. I'm slowly taking baby steps towards a recovery that will eventually allow me to walk unassisted one day.

I met a young man in rehab. He had crashed on his mountain bike a week earlier. He was rushed to the hospital where they operated on him. The operation was successful. They took him to his room and laid him in the bed. He said he felt his shoulders sink into the mattress. Then after a few minutes he felt a burning sensation in his chest. He then heard a pop!

They rushed him back into surgery, but it was too late. His spine had snapped and he is now paralyzed from the waist down.

In the blink of an eye your life can change. Ever since he told me about what happened to him I've been extremely sad. As a matter of fact, as nice a facility as this, the human stories are very saddening. I saw an Indian couple. And traditionally Indian men don't have much to say to African-American men.

I'm not going to debate it. It's my truth.

Anywho, as usual, because either I haven't learned my lesson yet or I'm just that kind man that my mother raised, I said hello. He looked me dead in the eye and then turned his head away without acknowledging me at all and rolled on. His demure wife trailed along behind his wheel chair and gently smiled at me as they made their way to an exercise machine.

She and I have had brief conversations since. But only when he was not around. She was very polite and showed interest in my progress.

I met an Italian man the other day named Dominic. He was dressed head to toe in his Steelers gear. His voice was rugged but MS had tamed it down to a whisper. He waved me over to his wheelchair. We shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other.

He looked down at my leg and told me he had a fixator on his leg one time for two months. I quickly told him that mine has been on for four months. "No shit?" he said, just above his usual whisper. We talked briefly about the Steelers and the Pirates and then rolled our separate ways.

I met a man just yesterday who shares the same name as my father. We were on weight machines next to each other. He's paralyzed from the waist down. He's been that way for the past two years and in talking with him it was evident that he was still pissed about his accident. An insurance adjuster came to his house to look at his roof which had been damaged by a storm.

In an attempt to show the adjuster just how bad his roof was, he also climbed up and onto the roof. Shortly after getting up there and pointing out damage he fell through the roof and broke his back.

Yes, there are plenty of people here fighting to recover from diseases and injuries. It's doubly sad for some who receive no visitors at all. Some are battered and bruised. Some keep to themselves and don't talk at all. I'm telling you all this because I've been affected by all that cross my path.

As bad of a shape that my body has been, with multiple surgeries and what not, I truly believe that there is not a soul in here whose injuries are less involved than mine. There are people with missing limbs, colostomy bags and many other life-threatening injuries.

So back to the first young man. My wife and I went to visit him in his room and prayed with him. My wife is the prayer warrior so she did all of the praying, I just held each of their hands.

He is a Christian and a poet. He wondered aloud just what plan God had for him. He loaned my wife his personal notebook full of handwritten poems of his to read. She read quite a few and I returned it to him the next day.

Now this is where my story comes in and will explain why I haven't posted any Chronicles for most of the week.

I have four therapy sessions a day, an occupational therapy session in the morning followed by a physical therapy session. I repeat both in the afternoon.

The O/T sessions focuses on normal things you do in the home, like sitting in chairs and on the sofa, reaching up and opening cupboard doors in the kitchen, all things you do in the bathroom, and much more, to prepare you for your return home.

P/T is all things physical. Exercising, lifting weights. Walking. Walking up and down stairs. Stretching your muscles, riding bikes, etc, etc.

So on this day my therapist in O/T says "Let's go to our model apartment and have you get used to walking on carpet."

My wife was with me and so we all proceeded to the apartment. This apartment was in the same building about two hundred feet from the gymnasium.

So we get there and it's a pretty nice place. It has a low nap carpet on the floor. I'm situated right outside the door in my wheelchair. My therapist places my walker in front of me. I take a few deep breaths and then I stand. She says, "Why don't you walk to the bedroom and then turn and sit on the bed?"

At the same exact time my wife and I say "Our bed is much higher". I say "Coke" she's probably thinking "Jinx" because of our age difference. The therapist had a blank look on her face.

Anywho, I started into the room, slowly but purposefully making my way to the bedroom, making sure along the way that I lifted my injured left foot just high enough so as not to drag it on the carpet. I must have taken about fourteen good steps and then it happened. As I got nearer to the bedroom I lifted my left foot but not nearly enough. According to my wife's recollection, my left leg turned inwards by the dragging of my foot. I felt a sharp pain in my hip. I immediately knew there was a problem.

My O/T, in an attempt to get my full forty-five minute session in, suggested that I continue towards the bed and then take a break. She and I have had several run-ins before and this time I wasn't going to allow her to possibly add further damage to my body. My wife brought me my wheelchair and that session was over. When I went to take the two steps to turn and sit I could not move my left leg forward. I was horrified. I made several more attempts but to no avail. We adjusted the chair so that I could sit from the standing position that I was frozen in.

My wife wheeled me to P/T where I told my Therapist there what had just happened. I stood and tried to walk forward, I could not.

I insisted that I be X-rayed and I returned to my room. Eventually they finally tracked down my doctor who put in the order for an X-ray.

Now I have an earlier X-ray of my hip showing the two screws they inserted right after my accident.

After a close inspection, it was my hope that the washer on the screw to the right didn't move. I'm no expert but I could never really see the significance of that washer. I would joke that they just went to Home Depot and grabbed some screws and stuff.

So I literally convinced myself that that washer had indeed shifted in my hip due to my dragging my foot on that carpet. I didn't have any pain, only a bruised feeling emanating from my hip as I laid in my bed. It was sort of like a reminder pain. Like "I won't go all out on your ass, as long as you don't subject me to that carpet again."

That evening the X-ray technician showed up at my room. He spent less than twenty minutes taking multiple angles of my left hip. I showed him the exact location of the pain by pointing to my actual hip. He advised me that the location of the pain that I was experiencing was much lower than those screws. That it was actually more where my femur bone settles into the socket on my hip.

He show me the new X-ray and I'm drugged that it wasn't that screw with the washer. It had not moved.

Later that evening when one of the nurses came in to tell me the actual results she says "Congrats, nothing's wrong!"

I'm like "Yes, something is wrong. I can't walk! Don't you understand?"

I phoned home to tell my wife and she's like "Alrighty! That's great!" I'm like "No baby it's not. I still can't walk. Something is wrong with my hip."

I barely slept that night. Several close friends called and texted me like they usually do. When they asked how I was doing I had to tell them. And to my surprise each of them told me that it was probably just something temporary and that I should just rest.

I didn't argue with them because I knew they meant well. But what was wrong? What happened in my hip area that has shut down my moving my leg forward?

I had no idea but I couldn't focus on anything else until I figured this out.

The next day came and went without any answers. It actually seemed like none of the health care professionals that I saw that day were too concerned about my situation. One of my surgeons' assistants did say that I probably pulled something.

Two days later in O/T my therapist had me stand at a table and then plant my right foot and hitch my left hip up and swing my left leg out to the side and then forward. I tried this and to my surprise it worked. My hip was sore as hell by doing it, but it worked.

In P/T my therapist chose not to work on walking at all but to give it even more time to rest.

Back in my room after my morning sessions, I laid in my bed resting my bones. After a good nap, my mother and wife showed up for a late morning visit. They entered the room with a purpose, it seemed. After small chit chat and hugs they went into prayer mode. My wife grabbed the small clear bottle of holy oil and we all held hands as they each prayed. My wife intermittently dabbed oil about the various damaged areas of my body, adding extra amounts on my left hip and leg.

Paul Ellis, who buried his mother just a few days earlier, showed up. It was good to see him because he had just gone through a similar circumstance with his legs and was at this very same facility for awhile earlier in the year. I mentioned to him that I had been using the brand new walker that he gave me. I said, "As a matter of fact, hand it to me, I feel like walking!"

I can't recall whether I told my wife and mother that I walked briefly in O/T that morning, and it really didn't matter because I was feeling a different kind of way. It was like they were all brought together for a reason. Paul rolled the walker over in front of me. I immediately stood up in it and commenced to walking with no pain whatsoever! Yes, God is good! We all went to my afternoon therapy sessions. I insisted on going back to that apartment and conquering that carpet.

We did so and my wife and I lay in the model bed. Our first time lying in a real sized bed in over four months. Everyone left us alone for a while.

I held her in my arms and for the first time in a long time it seemed like out of respect all of the pain in my body left us alone as well.

We then went to P/T where I did some minimal walking.

That very next morning I headed to Presby by ambulance at 4am. At 7am I went into surgery where they removed my external fixator! Yeaaaaaaah!!!

So I'm on my way to gaining greater independence and a much anticipated return to Falling Rock, my family's home.

Yes, in a blink of an eye your life can change. I'm lucky I have a supportive network of family and friends like you that have made my journey quite a bit easier and more peaceful.

God bless,

Mark

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#33 The Body Poetic

A single tear of pain makes it way down my sloped cheek. I wipe it away, not thinking much about it, however a short time later another one builds itself up, just enough so that it too can flow down that wet trail. Could it be that the meds have masked my pain, but my body still cries out?

I've been wiping them away for weeks, perhaps months, all the while not thinking once about their origin or more importantly what pain source birthed them. So I decided to focus more closely on my body. To monitor myself. To zone in to its functions and communicate with it on a deeper level.

When I go to scratch my back, my fingers are lost in unfamiliar territory. My fingernails stutter like H. Keller scrapping across the floorboards of a scar that runs deep down the center of my once flawless back. The sensation of my skin now struggles against my touch as it fights to hide the buried secret of two 14-inch steel supports that rest there for all of eternity.

With closed eyes, visions of the remnants of my surgeries seize my mind and hold it in a horrid suspense, and after much prayer I open my eyes to see them stare back at me and they softly say "This is ... the new normal."

They, these life scars, these scars for life want to be my friends. They want to be accepted and accompany me on the balance of my journey.

I touch them, I work at caressing them. I try to bond with my new ... scars.

I rub my hand over my distorted knee cap. The skin has healed and is now smooth but the remnants of a miraculous surgery are evidence of a horrific crash. I have urges but I no longer attempt to ferociously wipe them from existence. When I did in an angered fit, they've re-emerge from the depths of my bath water that I plunged them into. They surface and snarl and snicker at me, like "You fool, you can't erase us! We are now a part of you".

I've sulked and shed many tears over them. I've drowned in sorrow in the darkness and christened the floorboards in every room of my abode with heavy wet tears.

I've now given myself time to mourn my former self. My former skin and solid bones, and yes, my former mental make-up as well.

Sometimes for a quick pick-me-up, I close my right eye for several minutes and imagine a world without it. I slowly look around the room as a cyclops of sorts and take in all of the beauty that I can, and when I finally open my other eye ... a rush of joy overcomes me that yes! I have both of my eyes! It's during these moments that I temporarily forget about my injuries. And I'm thankful for so much more. I hold myself like no other can, both physically and mentally.

I'm my best caretaker and I must stay strong to slay the darkness that lies in wait.

Onward!

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#34 Faith

I sat in the bathroom in front of the mirror today. I shaved for the first time since the accident. They had to come in and tilt the mirror down so that I could see myself fully. I brushed my teeth and washed all of my body except for my lower left leg because of the external fixator and my back. When I lifted my arm to wash my arm pit I was struck at just how emaciated I really was. I mean, I know I lost a lot of weight, close to eighty pounds initially.

I gained about thirty five pounds or so back. But to see myself, to witness just how frail I really was...was heartbreaking.

I pulled the red rope near the commode to summon the nurse. On this day I had one of the two male nurses. He was a brother from the Hill. He washed my back and helped me put on my shorts over the fixator. I gathered my things and made my way to the bed. The bed is my comfort zone. It's been my best friend since the accident. It holds me and caresses me. It stays under me and allows me to dream. It's my magic carpet that will whisk me away to places where I can run and jump and climb up to my boys' treehouse. And walk my daughter down an aisle. It takes me to where I can hold my wife long and tightly in the comfort of our own home.

I approach the edge of my bed with the anxiousness of a young boy, but my nurse who is monitoring me tells me to stay in my chair and take it easy. "But I'm right here, why can't I just get in?"

He tells me that this is when most accidents happen and that I should take some deep breaths and relax.

But that won't work for me. I've been holding back my emotions of the visual effect of my emaciated body. They are ready to spill out like a bowel movement above open water. I had anticipated having my bed hold me and comfort me and help me get through this personal moment. But it was not to be. He refused to lower my bed and once again asked me to just breath deeply and relax. Well this time my body did not comply. Like not making it to the toilet in time, my emotions seeped out in tears, snot and muted moans of despair.

He sat there and observed me for its duration. After what seemed like a lengthy amount of time, I calmed down and quietly said..... "I'm ready now"

I rolled myself to the far end of my bed where the control panel was situated. He quietly observed as I lowered the bed myself. I rolled back to the upper part of the bed and positioned myself to transfer. He then sprang into action and stood at the end of the bed and watched as I gently moved from my wheelchair to the comfort of my bed.

I reached up and grabbed hold of the metal trapeze arm that sits high up above my bed where the cross my cousin Tiffany gave me hangs. I pulled myself up on it and situated my body just right.

He removed my shoe and sock and rolled my wheelchair back to its parking space on the other side of the room.

He placed my rolling table nearer to my bed and asked if there was anything else I needed. "Just my Steeler blanket" I replied. He gave it to me and quietly exited the room.

I now lay here comfortably but with the image of my frail body stuck in my thoughts. I've been eating tons of food but I know that my body was in far worse condition many weeks ago.

I also know that just like my taste buds and body strength were slow to return, so will be my muscle mass and the image of a perfectly heathy-looking me.

Yes "One day at a time sweet Jesus

That's all I'm askin' of you

Just give me the strength

To do every day what I have to do

Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus

And tomorrow may never be mine

Lord, help me today, show me the way

One day at a time..."

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#35 Little Man on My Left Shoulder

I said something rude today. I didn't plan it. It just kinda slipped out in anger.

Sorta like a delayed Tourette syndrome outburst. You know, the good guy on one shoulder and the bad guy on the other. Most folks say an Angel on one and a little devil on the other. I prefer to reference them as the good guy and the bad guy.

Well, the little bad guy got ahold of the mega phone this day.

It all started when I awoke one morning to find myself being introduced to the new nurse for the day. She was a fiftyish woman and seemed quite pleasant. Whenever it was time to do something she was "Jonette" on the spot.

She helped me get dressed and into my wheelchair and I was about to head to my first therapy session in the morning. However on this morning I was interrupted the same as I have the last several mornings with the urge to move my bowels. I would need to get on a bed pan. They have me on a regiment of multiple drugs that help me move my bowels. So it's like every morning there's this big payoff from taking those pills. I was glad that they were moving but a little disappointed that the whole ordeal interfered with my Occupational Therapy session, sometimes causing me to miss the entire session. And that's not a good thing because they are all about business here and they will reschedule your missed session to the upcoming Saturday, aaaand double your time from forty-five minutes to ninety. Besides, Saturday is supposed to be our day off, so you don't want to mess that up.

When I told my new nurse that I needed to move my bowels, she assumed that I would use the toilet in the bathroom.

She was shocked when I requested a bed pan. She did however get one for me and set me up.

Well, on this particular day my bowels did not move and I only missed twenty minutes of a forty-five minute session. Now, let me explain how this whole bed pan situation works.

You feel you may be about to have a bowel movement. You push a button near your bed to alert the nurse that you need help. A beeping sound starts in the hallways and also a notice appears on the computer at the main nurses' station in your area. Usually whoever is available stops in. Mostly they try to alert your assigned nurse.

When the nurse enters, they first ask you, what's wrong? You tell them and depending on the severity they either get additional help or go it alone. They then turn off the alert button on the wall near your bed.

You request a bed pan. They get one and they place what they call a "Chuck" over top of it. A chuck is a square thin disposable material. It's about 30"x30". It's white paper on one side and blue plastic on the other. I always request a thin bed pan because they are more comfortable. They're not as deep, so depending on what kinda package you plan to deliver you may need the big boy. Anywho. Once they have it ready you must roll to one side, and depending on the severity of your injury and your ability to move, they may need additional help rolling you. They then slid it into place and have you roll back on top of it. Your weight should cause it to sink into the bed and into your body causing very little discomfort.

So now your relaxed knowing that you can handle your business. Time goes by and eventually the deed is done.

Now here comes one of the lowest points of your visit. Someone must come and remove it, and clean you.

When I say one of the lowest, I mean it. You must roll to the side and hold on to the rail of the bed and lay there as a complete stranger wipes the most private part of your body. This experience alone comes as close as anything to preparing you for prison life.

It's not something I enjoy, but using a bed pan works best for me under my current condition. With the external fixator on my lower left leg it is extremely difficult and painful to use the regular toilet in the bath room. The same is true for the mobile toilet. In the regular bathroom the toilet is really low so it's painful for my left leg to be extended in such a strange position. The portable potty solves some of the problem with the seat being higher up but the angle for my leg is still somewhat painful. It requires me to place two pillows on the floor under my left foot. I don't mind doing this if I'm already up and about and I'm re-entering the room in my wheelchair and need to use the toilet.

But I think it's unsanitary to continue to place pillows on the floor. My preference for the bed pan is my best choice for my current condition. So back to the nurse.

So on this particular day the health department happened to be in the building conducting a routine inspection. I had just finished my morning physical therapy session and I'm headed back to my room hoping that the health department is not inspecting it because now my bowels are ready to escape me. So I'm wheeling myself back to my room rather quickly.

My wife is now with me having joined me during rehab. She's doing her best to keep up.

When I re-enter my room from my morning rehab I find that my water pitcher and two urinals have my name on them in black magic marker.

It looks odd and immediately compels me to feel institutionalized. I rang for my nurse because one must be present when I transfer to my bed. She arrived and shortly after transferring to my bed I requested a bed pan.

She paused for a moment. Then she asked why wouldn't I just use the bathroom.

I explained to her my reason. That because of the fixator on my left leg, a bed pan worked best for me.

She said "I can slide the trash can over and you can rest your leg up on it".

I said "That sounds uncomfortable. I'd rather just use the bed pan if you don't mind".

She quickly comes back with "I can put a pillow on it for you".

I told her that's a lot to go through and I really don't want to have my injured leg with this big metal contraption on it sitting up on a trash can, let alone trying to relieve myself.

She unwillingly complied with my request for a bed pan. She got me set up and exited the room, my wife excused herself as well and went to the lounge area down the hall.

I moved my bowels and now it was time for that lowest point that I spoke of earlier. I pushed the red button to summon the nurse so that the now full bed pan could be removed and I could be cleaned.

The door opened and one of those nurses on my "List" entered. My list exists only in my mind. It's a page-long list of images of faces of terrible employees etched into my mental psyche. This particular nurse was near the top of that list. She was a frail woman with unkempt hair. She briskly entered the room in a whirlwind of negativity.

As she put on a pair of rubber gloves I rolled to my left and clung tightly onto the bed rail anticipating her approach. She grabbed a package of ready flush wipes and without speaking turned off the alarm, quickly removed my bed pan, gave me a few quick wipes, and exited my room.

My initial thought was that my new guest nurse refused to understand my reason for using a bed pan and instead of getting personal with me by cleaning me she ducked into a broom closet and waited for another nurse to answer the call.

So the balance of my three hour break between my morning and afternoon therapy sessions consisted of having lunch, spending time with my wife and having another visitor.

We all sat there chatting. I was in my wheelchair at this point as we were about to head to my afternoon therapy sessions. My nurse enters and begins what will become a very nasty encounter.

After introductions, in front of my wife and friend, she starts with "Mr. Southers, what's going on with you and this whole potty thing?"

I just stare at her, not believing what I'm hearing. She continues, "You know it's not very kosher." I ignored her as I wheeled myself into the hallway followed by my wife and guest.

She continued on, this time directing her remarks towards my wife, in earshot of my guest. She says, "He is so in love with his bed pan".

That was it. As she stood there in the hallway with a smirk on her face, the good guy on my right shoulder whispered in my ear. "Be nice, just wheel away". But instead I slowly wheeled towards her and the little bad guy on my left shoulder pulled out a megaphone from somewhere and yelled at her in a most reparationist voice:

"Maybe what I really love, is the idea of white people wiping my ass!"

She turned red in the face and sternly walked away never to be seen again.

Both men on my shoulders eyed each other and quickly disappeared.

I sat there, and although a huge wage of relief overcame me by sending her on her way, I did feel some shame.

But as I said at the top of this chronicle, I said something rude. Sometimes people push you to a uncomfortable place and at that point it's extremely difficult to keep that little bad guy in check. But I do want to shine the light back towards the button pushers of the world that are the cause of these outburst. Yes. They need to be accountable for their actions.

Onward.

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#36 Shower

I get most of my creative writing ideas and inspiration while I'm in the shower. There's something about the calming effect of warm streaming water pulsating against your body that evokes clear thinking. I believe it washes away all of the current headaches of the world which exist prior to your stepping into that stall. Even now with my altered body from the effects of a horrific auto accident, the water still has a calming effect.

I have a friend that takes three baths a day. No, I'm dead serious. I bet you're wondering how I know this and if it's a male or a female. Well, it's a male friend, and this is how I know. He was working in our corner store awhile back and he kept disappearing. We were like "What's up? Where you been?" He was like "I had to go take a bath." OK, so like after a week of that, hell a few days, we were like "This ain't gonna work".

It was a bit much, come on, three baths a day? We still tease him about that, but I'm quite sure the ladies don't mind.

There's just so much you can get away with in the shower. You can spit, pee, squeeze pimples and many other bodily secrecitory things. If that's even a word. But all of the evidence just gets washed down the drain and you walk out of there clean. There's no better deal than that. Anywho, water is wonderful, baths and showers are great. Some of my best lines and monologues have come to me while under a nice hot shower. Actually my wife likes hot showers, I like mine really warm, but not hot. I guess showers could be like ordering steaks. Cold would be pink, warm would be medium and hot would be ... well done.

When I worked in the mill it took me seven years before I would even take a shower at work. I used to just drive home dirty and take my showers at home. But after seven years of that I finally gave in and started taking them at work along with thirty other guys. Yeah, it took some time to get used to.

At times I felt like I was a minority on a slave ship below deck where all of the slaves were white but me. I know that's kind of really deep thinking but that was the image. A steamy room with a slew of pink bodies. Let's move on.

So I'm lying in my bed at the rehab center. I still had on the immobilizer on my left leg and a nurse comes into my room and asks me, "Mr. Southers, would you like to take a shower today?" I'm like "What really?" See, because it's like August something. I'm not really sure of the date, but it's probably mid-August and I haven't had a post-accident shower as of yet. So like since May 10th. That's like fourteen weeks! Nothing but sponge baths and such all that time. So I was both shocked and elated that the time had come. But when she returned a short time late I declined. I wasn't ready yet. Mentally ready. See, my fear was that the pins attached to the big metal leg immobilizer would get wet and maybe cause an infection. So I got tight. She told me that they would wrap plastic around the immobilizer and that it would be fine. Plus she added that they do it all of the time. But I still declined.

That night while I lay in my dark room all I could think about was taking a shower. Just being under that warm cascading flow. I thought about all of the great ideas that I hadn't had a chance to discover since being bedridden and unable to do for myself. I wanted to be in the water so badly. When a new nurse inquired that next morning if I wanted to take a shower I said in a completely calm voice "Absolutely!"

Before I knew it, I was butt-naked in my wheelchair with nothing but a wash cloth and a bottle of body wash. As the nurse wrapped my left leg in plastic all I could think about was that long awaited shower. Like a kid waiting for Chiller Theatre to come on I kept looking back over my shoulder at the shower stall like Redd Foxx yelling to the heavens "I'm coming Elizabeth!" But in a good way. Once my temporary plastic boot was taped on I wheeled myself in and tested different water temperatures until I settled on a medium-well temperature.

Man, this was way overdue. I just sat there under the warm water for what must have been easily twenty minutes.

My fragile body accepted that mesmerizing liquid flow like a long-lost friend with open arms and a tight hug.

I felt sorry for my left leg with its heavy layers of dead skin. Unfortunately it had to sit this one out. I looked at it through the plastic and it looked sad that it couldn't participate but it seemed to understand that it needed more time to heal. But I think it was happy for the rest of my body that slowly came back to life like a sun-deprived plant with wilted leaves. Other than my left leg, my body was in full appreciation of the warm flowing water. Even Hank showed some slight appreciation as the warm streams of water cascaded down his subdued neck and puddles formed in his matted fro. I left him alone though as he struggled to position himself to fully appreciate its warm wet embrace.

My nurse returned to check on me and I was like "I haven't even started yet". Sitting in there was like foreplay and I was in no rush to take it to the next level. Unlike my youthful days when it was only a matter of time before the hot water dissipated, I knew that by being in a large facility the warm water would be unending. I love showers so much I've installed a seventy-five gallon hot water tank at our home "Falling Rock". I remember my time in South Africa back in 1998 while performing at the Grahamstown Arts Festival. Our small acting troupe "Each One Tell One" stayed at an all-girls school housing facility that was available for rent during the summer. The artists shared the large building with the extra South African police that they brought in to help patrol the large arts festival. In the mornings the artists were allowed to use the restroom and bathing areas first. I think we had an hour before we had to turn it over to the police.

I learned after a few trips there that the hot water ran out rather quickly, so I switched from taking showers to taking baths because that way I could enjoy the warmth a little longer. Well, one morning I fell asleep in the tub and I was awakened by someone singing in the shower stall next to where my tub was. We were divided by a light gray painted wooden wall. Apparently this guy didn't know the complete American songs that he attempted to sing, but it was quite amusing. It was like he was on scan mode much like on a radio. He would sing just one verse or a fraction of a song and then move on to another. "Tie a yellow ribbon round an old oak tree" ... "Roxanne, you don't have to put on the red light" ... "That's why I'm easy, easy like Monday Morning" ... this went on forever. I eventually got out of there and went on with my day. But thinking about the effects of a warm bath or shower floods my mind with memories such as those.

These days standing in the shower is a chore. My stability is no longer the same as before. Now I'm constantly adjusting my stance and holding on as I turn around. My wife shows up after the first initial ten minutes to wash my left leg and foot which is a struggle for me to wash due to my limited ability to bend it. I get a free backwash now out of the deal too, something that I had done for myself with a loofah strap prior to the accident. Hey, I'll take what I can get these days. My fragile mental psyche can use it. My showers now are no longer those relaxing comfortable careless showers I once knew. So now I struggle to get my inspiration from another source. I probably shouldn't say struggle. Although it feels natural to say that, it's probably better to just say that I'm waiting for a new way to reveal itself.

I must admit though when I'm traveling I now choose to stay in an accessible room. In those rooms they have benches that you can sit on in the showers. It's not the same as standing under the water but it's as close as I can expect to get under my circumstances and still be comfortable. Yep, that's what my life has shifted to. Finding new ways to get comfortable with the "New Normal". Oh well, I'm still here, right?

Onward!

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#37 Wheelchair Days

It took like forever to get to the point that I could get out of my bed and into my wheelchair on my own. Firstly I had to be able to move my body. My right side came back first. Slowly but deliberately I was able to move my right leg. Eventually I was able to sit up. This took some doing. Many weeks of occupational therapy. The toughest part was fighting my inner mind that was so used to sending signals to my limbs and the frustration of watching them not react. It was downright painful.

The other day I received a few medical bills in the mail. One was from some company that says they're renting my wheelchair to me, well, this is news to me. I've stopped using it for well over a month now, not that it doesn't occasionally help anymore, but due to the fact that Leo and I left it in Ohio by mistake. See, we were rushing to get to an event and decided to leave it at the hotel until after the event to save time. Well, once the event was over we jumped in his ride and got on the highway and headed back to the Burgh. Meanwhile my two wheeler stayed stored in a closet at the Columbus Marriott. See, once I'm sitting or laying down it's easy to forget that I still need assistance. So once we got in the car all that was on my mind was getting back to the Burgh. It wasn't until we were right outside of Zanesville that we remembered. Leo did volunteer to do a Pittsburgh left, but I don't like to waste gas plus I wanted to get back home to the family. So we eased on down the road.

When my in-home physical therapist first asked if I needed a wheelchair my wife and I tied at saying "Yes". Of course because of our age difference, I said "Coke" and she said "Jinx". Well, maybe she thought jinx; I can't really remember. But in the perfect story-telling world, that's what she would have said.

Anywho, so this guy is like, "Yeah, I can get you whatever you need". I'm like "OK, sure, we want whatever's free."

He's like "You want a wheelchair?" I'm like "Yep". He's like "You want a toilet booster seat?" I'm like "Yep". He's like "You want a walker?" I'm like "Yep". He's like "You want a potty chair?" I'm like "Nope". See, that's one thing I didn't want. I didn't want to be taking care of my business in the living room. That was a bit too much. And who's going to empty it? That's really asking a lot. Nope, I have a nice little bathroom with a shower on the first floor at Falling Rock, thank you very much.

He continued to run off this list of so-called free stuff that I was eligible to receive. See, some of the stuff I already had, like the brand new walker that Paul Ellis gave me. But if the stuff is free then bring it on. Plus I was on meds, let's not forget that. So my gypsy mind was in enhanced mode. I'm thinking flea market when the weather breaks.

So yeah, the wheelchair was a great deal for free. So I thought. The lady on the other line informs me that they had been billing my insurance company but now my new insurance company isn't covering it. So I guess the guy was telling the truth as long as it was the old insurance company. But as we all know, just about nothing in the world is really free. Somebody is paying for it somewhere someway. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the other bill that I received the other day was my final total hospital and rehab bill.

1.6 Million. Yep, I know that's a whole "nuther" chronicle right? Anywho it is what it is. Insurance has covered like one-eighth of it so far. But back to the wheelchair.

A wheelchair can be like a drug in some respects. It solves some major issues initially and for a sustained amount of time it can relieve pain, but eventually you have to wean yourself off of it.

And people also treat you differently when you're sitting lower than them in a wheelchair. Most are really kind and offer you assistance, but to some you become invisible. It's like for some reason you must be in that chair because of a bad deed you did and that it's God's punishment. So they want to keep their distance from the evil "Do-badder". Who really knows what people are thinking? Could just be the paranoid thoughts of a man who has trouble standing for long periods of time.

The boys really liked it a lot when I finally made the transition from my hospital bed to my wheelchair. It was like now I finally had some mobility. Smooth mobility, not the Frankenstein or Mummy walk that was indicative of my early first recovery steps. It was like I skipped over all of that and went right to the chair. They enjoyed pushing me through the hallways at the rehab center. We purposely keep them away during my rehab therapy hours in the gym. We didn't want them to witness my struggle to reacquaint my limbs with their purpose.

More recently my below-the-waist issues have switched back and forth from different parts of my body. I tell you it's like a Rubik's Cube. First my right leg was great. It was the best thing that I had going, but I guess I depended on it a bit too much. My right knee finally had enough and it cracked I guess under all of the pressure I was putting on it. So for like two solid months I could hardly walk on it. So naturally my weight shifted back onto my left knee and leg which had originally received the most damage from the accident and has the most metal in it. That worked for a little while but now my left ankle is like mush from all of the weight that it's supporting.

It's extremely painful to walk on, so yep, I'm back to putting most of my weight on my right side again.

Yesterday while helping to put the final touches on the set for my new play and getting the place ready for this weekend's sold-out performances, I decided to use our theatrical prop wheelchair that's down at the theater. Why not, right? It's free. Man! What a difference it made. I was able to get so much more done and go home without being in severe pain. It's mentally a lot to get used to, but I had to suck it up and keep it moving. I keep telling those around me, and I'll say it to you as well, "Don't feel sorry for me". Please don't. It is what it is, and as Kendrick Lamar says, "It's gonna be alright," right?

I do believe this major setback is going to make me a much better person when it's all said and done. I already feel that it has.

So all I can say is ....... Onward!

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#38 Wifey

I can hear her footsteps drawing closer and I know that it's her. I can tell. There's a certain pattern that's distinctly African-American. And I know that it's my guest because all of the other patients in my area are Caucasian. Not that Caucasian folks don't have African-American visitors, but I'm playing against the odds.

But every once in awhile you'll get faked out. I attribute that to McDonald's french fries. They've been adding muscle mass to the derrières of the American population for years. Ya'll know what I'm talkin' about.

But anywho, my wife enters my room and momentarily all of the pain subsides in my body and mind. However I do become more needy. I'm not gonna lie. You know I keep it one hunerd.

(Yes folks I'm slangin')

My body speaks to her "Take care of me baby". Any ache or pain is now somehow a big issue that she must bring comfort to. Yes, that's how it is. Please don't judge me. She's my wife, my honey, my boo and I'm going to take advantage of that reality. Especially when my subconscious is tuned all the way up and into it. Hey, I'm just on auto pilot, and by the way my body is really f'd up, so let me at least enjoy this part of the ride.

When she arrives she is all about business. Her main concerns are dirty clothes, peeling skin, and ashiness.

See, she's seeing me now in a different light, plus it's a public situation with my having plenty of visitors. So she goes over me like a chef looks over their buffet at 11:55am. If she had her choice she'd probably have them place a sneeze guard around me. My skin is going through a metamorphosis of sorts from all of the physical trauma, lack of movement, chemicals in my system and absence of sunshine. So ashiness has taken on a new form. Now my skin is much tougher. I'm thinking that putting baby oil in an IV might do the trick.

She goes at it, diligently cleaning me up and rubbing Shea butter into my rough skin. After those issues have been dealt with I usually receive my hug. And I'm cool with it because her doting on me is nothing but pure love.

One of her big pet peeves is cleanliness of my mid regions. Because I'm still on a bed pan, at times I'm left to the mercy of my nurses assistants when it comes to cleaning me afterwards. Yes, ya'll know what afterwards means. Please don't make me say it. Okay. Are we all caught up?

OK, so they range from one wipe to four. The one wipers are the most attitudest nurses assistants that bring their troubles to work with them or are pissed that I'm still using a bed pan. I explain to them because of the fixator on my left leg, and the difficulty that it brings in movement that this is more times than not the best option for me, and believe me it's not a great feeling laying on my side having my bum wiped.

The problem is that very rarely am I really cleaned thoroughly. It's my wife that goes behind them and completes the task. I mean she's in there like a trooper. She'll wipe all the way up into my small intestines! Yes she is efficient. She has taken real good care of me since day one. She's an energizer bunny that never sits still.

One of the things that I've come to realize recently, is that she witnessed everything! Man, that had to have been emotionally impactful on her. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been to be strapped into a vehicle and watching it head towards a school bus at a high rate of speed. Although she was spared the damaging injuries that I received, emotionally she had to have been damaged. But her strong belief in the Good Lord has kept her on a emotional high that is miraculous and I'm grateful to have her in my life.

She stays on top of everything and believe me these nurses and doctors have taken note. They know that when they come in here they better come with their A game because she doesn't play.

You know when the preacher says "For better or for worse"? Well she's aced the worse part already, so we're good to go. Just looking forward to the "Better" days. Which in my humble opinion ... are each and every day from here on out.

Onward!

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#39 The Same Tribe

So I finally got an appointment to see my former pre-accident knee surgeon. This is the guy who had been administering shots to my left knee prior to my accident. He's like the heir to Dr. Freddy Fu's kingdom at UPMC Sports Medicine. I wanted to meet with him to bring him up to date on my injuries.

He had not known of the crash, so I decided to call him to set up an appointment for him to look at my right knee that had started to ache after I ran out of pain meds for a few days. My left knee has a long history of being in bad shape. Pre-accident it was the worst thing medically that had ever happened to me.

It started out as a basketball injury sustained while hooping with some friends at the Air Force base near the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport way back in 1980. It went on to deteriorate even more over my next thirty years as a photographer, baseball coach and steelworker. I was finally told a dozen years ago that I would indeed need a knee replacement, but that I should wait until I'm much older.

Anywho, fast forward to post accident days. There's so much metal in my left leg and knee now that I may not even need a knee replacement anymore.


While undergoing surgery immediately after the accident, as I lay there in an induced coma, my wife did ask, could they repair my left knee while they were working on me? They declined because of all of the other more important work that they had to do, LIKE SAVING MY LIFE! It was akin to asking someone climbing Mount Everest to bring you back three snow balls. It's not going to happen.

So like I said earlier, my surgeon is moving up the ladder; he used to come in after the nurse did her pre-checkup routine. Then it graduated to an intern coming in after the nurse and checking me out before he entered.

Now all of that happens and when he finally arrives he has an entourage. I'm telling you he's like a rock star. He comes in and he's flanked by two assistant surgeons and he usually has on a nice slick suit. But on this day, on this day my wife and I sat in the little room waiting on him. I had on the blue throw-away shorts that they give you. She was on her iPhone checking flights like she does. The nurse came and left, the intern came in and left and then there was a knock at the door.

"Come on in!" I yelled out, and to our surprise, in came a brother. Yes! A brother doctor! A surgeon! A Brother Doctor Surgeon! Oh, I wish my kids were here with us to see this. Those same goosebumps that lasted for the entire eighteen minutes and forty-eight seconds of Senator Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention had returned. The same ones! I was ecstatic!

He came in and hit us with a barrage of questions. Yes Brother Doctor Surgeon! My wife and I eagerly answered them all. He pulled up my MRI and went over it with us in full detail. He compared pre- and post-accident X-rays of my right knee. He explained just how bad it was and what the possible remedies may be. He spent at least a good solid thirty-five minutes with us explaining things in great detail. It was an eye-opening heartfelt experience. Yes Brother Doctor Surgeon!

I'm telling you the brother took great care of us and showed an unbelievable amount of care and concern about my situation. I almost wept when he left.

Yes Brother Doctor Surgeon!

Yes, it was that great of a visit. When he stepped out of the room to get my surgeon, my wife and I looked at each other like "What the hell just happened? I thought we lived in Pittsburgh?"

He and my surgeon returned a short time later; as my surgeon talked, it was reminiscent of one of Charlie Brown's parents murmuring. He was talking but my wife and I already had all of our questions answered by the brilliant brother who had just spent THIRTY-FIVE uninterrupted bona fide minutes addressing our needs and concerns. Put simply, "We were ready to go".

After less than ten minutes he was done. It was like one of those concerts where the opening act had stolen the show and you headed home early to avoid the traffic.

They discussed my knee with a volley of back and forth questions and answers, much of which was a flurry of knee-related medical confusion. They finished up, and the brother returned momentarily to give me a shot of cortisone in my right knee.


We talked briefly of his educational path; it was refreshing to hear of his travels, trials and tribulations. He and his wife had only been here for four months. I said "Well, welcome to Pittsburgh Good Brother".

The euphoria that had filled the room so quickly now slowly dissipated as he sadly informed us that he and his wife would be relocating soon. Unfortunately our former most livable city status was not enough for them. Yes, gloom had set into the room. Another opportunity to expand our black population was lost. For whatever reason they wanted more.

They wanted to enjoy LIFE more. More than what our city that has so much promise has to offer. It's a slow grind to reach a level where we have some traction. Some stickability.

One day soon, I hope our young African-American college graduates, entrepreneurs and young families decide to stick around and lend their talents to our city's growth.

I shook my man's hand and said "Thank you good brother for taking such great care of us, we must be from the same tribe". He firmly held my hand and said "Oh, no doubt, we most certainly are my friend".

To the ones that constantly fight for a better Pittsburgh. Please, stay on your grind!

Onward!

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#40 The Pork Chronicles

While recently working in Columbus Ohio, my good friend Leo treated my sound designer Mark Whitehead and me to dinner at a lavish chop house.

Well now, you know, if you're going to a nice chop house, ordering a nice juicy steak is a must. I personally ordered a 14 oz medium-well Filet Mignon topped with Gorgonzola cheese.

When I first saw it on the menu, I was like "I hafta have this!" I said that to myself, but my exuberance while ordering made it very evident that I was pumped up for this steak. We sat back and had gentlemanly conversation while our meals were prepared. I sipped on my Barcardi and Coke with a lime on ice and thoroughly enjoyed the miracle of just being able to exist.

Yes, I know I'm on meds, but I was waaaay over due for a drink. Plus, I wasn't driving. I did however quietly thank God for the opportunity to enjoy life again.

Our steaks eventually arrived; I marveled at the height of Whitehead's towering medium-rare filet, which explained its plumpness. The more it's cooked the smaller it becomes. The server graciously presented Leo his, and then my steak to me, and to my horror it had multiple large bacon bits sprinkled all over its surface and infused into the exotic cheese.

"Um, Houston, we have a problem," I muttered, just loud enough to get the servers attention, but not so loud as to bother the other patrons. Well, at least the ones in the hallway area, because we were in what seemed to be a private area.

I asked if it had said bacon on the menu, because I certainly did not see it. He said he was unsure as he removed my plate but he would certainly check.

See, I haven't eaten pork since I was seventeen years old. That's been over thirty-five plus years.

I have a friend named Arnold Matthews. Arny was what we used to call "Pledging Muslim". He had joined a mosque here in Pittsburgh and was really excited about coming into consciousness, learning about the black man and the very essence of his true self.

So we all sat back and watched him go through his transformation. He got really serious-like, started wearing bow ties and what-not. Carrying books around, always had a book with him. Usually something about the black man and how to un-brainwash yourself.

Then one day he came up to me and said, "Man, you need to stop eatin' that pork". He told me all the stuff you usually hear, you know, "It got worms in it!", "The pig is filthy, it represents all the leftover crap we had to eat as slaves!", "It's just plain ole bad for you". He then told me "I bet you if you stop eating it for two weeks, I guarantee you, you won't like it no more". I said, "Alright, I can do that". To be quite honest with you, I didn't really eat a whole lot of it anyway. Usually just sausage and pork chops. So I went cold turkey on it.

Exactly two weeks later he rolled up on me and said "How'd it go?" I didn't even know two weeks had gone by. But I acted like I did; I said "Cool ,cool. Ain't no biggie. But I don't see any difference". He said, "It's really four weeks, but if I had told you that in the first place, you may not have tried it".

I said "OK, no big deal, I'll give it another two weeks". Exactly two weeks later, here he comes. This time smilin'. Before he could even open his mouth I said "Man you runnin' some crap on me. Ain't nothin' changed. I can tear up a whole plate of sausage right about now and wouldn't think nothin' of it".

He said "My man Mark, it's really a six week cleanse, but had I told you that from the get-go I'da been wasting my time". I laughed, I said "Alright, I've gone this far. It's not gonna hurt to go another two weeks". So I laid off the pork for another two weeks and don't you know, I haven't eaten it since. I've lost the desire for it. The smell of it turns me off.

Once during my first marriage my father appeared in our kitchen doorway with a hot steaming paper plate piled high with hot steamy chitterlings. The smelled of them reeked as it somehow made its way through the aluminum foil.

My first wife and my dad had a ritual of sharing chitterlings with each other. On this day it was my father's turn to share. He knew that I chosen not to eat pork but he threw jabs at me whenever the opportunity presented itself. This time he placed the plate on the kitchen counter and jokingly said "Here, clean this plate off" and to his surprise I responded "Sure, no problem" I gently lifted the plate up and removed the foil. I turned away slightly and whistled for my black lab Nikki. She eagerly entered the room.

As she approached, I dropped the plate to the floor. "Smack," it landed squarely, or rather roundly, on the floor. My father stood there frozen as Nikki quickly lapped up his prize chitterlings. I picked up the stinky soggy plate, turned towards him and said "There, it's cleaned off." Pissed, he marched out the door slamming it behind himself. My wife held her laugh long enough until he was long gone. He never bothered me again about my pork boycott.

Fast forward to present day. My wife makes two different kinds of breakfast bacon. Regular pork bacon for her and the boys and specialty turkey bacon for myself. My oldest son Marcus loves pork bacon. I mean he grabs it by the greasy handful and shoves it down his throat. His hands end up looking like he touches up Jheri curls for a living.

OK, not really, but you get my drift. Raising children with two different ideals in a household is tough. You treat it pretty much like religion. You keep your mouth shut and wait for them to find their way to the light.

Well, one day the door to a new understanding cracked open when Marcus curiously asked me why I ate a different type of bacon than everyone else. Being that we have progressed electronically greatly since the days of young Arny and Mark I quietly suggested that he pull up the Coke on Pork experiment on YouTube.

Well, it wasn't long before Marcus abandoned his desire for the Pig, and like a good big brother he spread the Stop the Pork gospel to his younger brother Andre who quickly converted and joined our team. Mom never said a word and neither have I.

Meanwhile back at the Columbus chop house, our server returned with my new or new-cheesed-over steak and quickly apologized saying that, yes, it was true that bacon was omitted from the menu. We drank free that night and went on to enjoy a great evening of theatre.

Onward!

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#41 Dream Sequence One

Father & Son at Father's retirement party (circa 1997)

I had a dream last night. Or rather, very early this morning. It was my first sustained dream since my days in the hospital. In it I found myself in a white room. Only lit by a small lamp on an institution-like metal table in the upper corner, the furthest point away from me. There were three beds in this room. My bed was the furthest right, nearest to the door I'm assuming. I say assuming because during this dream I never saw a door. I woke up in a hospital-type gown and I looked towards the light.

There was a nurse sitting there at the table. She was an African-American woman in her early twenties. I couldn't talk very well so I gingerly made my way towards her. As I dragged my injured left leg across the cold floor I noticed that the second bed was empty. As I got closer to her I noticed that there was someone in the third bed but they were under their sheet.

She said, "Can I help you Mr. Southers?"

I said, "Why am I here?" She told me because I was having a rough time.

I then asked her if I could call my father.

She told me that there weren't any phones in the rooms. I then asked her if I could use her personal phone. She hesitated and then removed her phone from her pocket and asked me what was his number. "412-766-4810, ask for Carl R. Southers," I said in a semi-desperate voice.

After a few rings I heard her ask for my father. A few moments later she hung up. "Your father is no longer there, they say he retired many years ago." It was at that moment I realized that he had died in 1998. I woke up immediately.

I'm not sure what bothered me the most, that my father had died or that I was in a virtual psychiatric ward.

Analysis

Starting this past Friday our youngest son Andre caught a bug, a virus of some sort. He threw up at least four times. I attributed it to him running and jumping nonstop on the queen-sized air mattress that I usually set up for them on Friday nights. I initially bought it for my recovery but the two boys bullied it away from me. The next night Marcus caught the bug and then Sunday I caught it. It made me very weak and I was unable to attend the final performance of Black Nativity. However, I did take in the Steeler game.

So my whole life I watched just about every single Steeler game with my dad. A lot of times, especially during the 1979 season and well into the early eighties, former Pittsburgh city councilman, neighbor and good friend of the families Jake Milliones joined us. We drank Strohs beer and ate pretzels. We also went to plenty of games together as well.

I'm guessing as great as that Steeler game was, I watched it as though my father was there in the room with me.

Much like he is when I watch "Guns of Navarone" or "Bridge on the River Kwai."

The adrenaline boost of that great victory lasted well into the night and I'm sure pushed the feelings of my late father into my dreams. That, along with the weariness of my body, unable to fight as strongly as my two sons had, due to its current condition.

The nurse reminded me of a nurse I had at Highland Park Care Center. I'm thinking the reason why she made the call for me was because of a situation I had with a nurse there that shared the same name as my daughter Ashley.

Once she was about to exit my room and she asked me was there anything else she could do for me. I paused momentarily and asked if she could just sit with me for awhile. I explained that I was having nightmares and that my wife and mother were in between shifts. She sat down and talked with me until my mother arrived. That nurse reminded me of her.

I'm thinking that the three beds represented life, in-between and death. My bed was life and I'm am thankful for being able to even be here to write about my journey. The middle bed seemed to be where I was when I was absent from this world mentally, existing only in the nether world where I was hounded around the clock by death. And the third bed with the body under the sheet meant nothing to me but death. The image of one who had succumbed to all of life's downward challenges.

I'm thinking the idea of me being in somewhat of an asylum may come from how crazy I'm driven to feel with all of the rehabilitation, and medications that I'm on and how mentally painful it is to look at my body all sliced up. Today my wife made the call to get me on antidepressants. I tried my best to rise above the though of needing them, but the long-withstanding notion of "I don't know everything" finally won out.

Onward!

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#42 Set Back Downer

Rick Southers III during rehab

Well, the results from my MRI of my right knee are in. I knew something was wrong. That weekend that I struggled through without pain killers opened up a Pandora's box of aches and pains.

One of which was a severe aching in my supposedly "Good" right knee. Please keep in mind that this was the knee that came back to life the quickest after the accident.

Many weeks after my auto accident, I awoke to find my left knee confined to a metal contraption with fourteen steel pins going from it into my skin and ultimately into my leg and knee bone.

My right leg however was in some sort of soft brace. I was told that my right leg had several lacerations, but that was about it. Some were visible while other smaller ones were concealed by a soft navy blue brace.

Eventually the brace was removed and I was allowed to start the slow rehab process of getting that leg to move.

Just the fact that it had nothing covering it anymore placed it miles ahead of my damaged left leg.

I'm not sure how long I was conscious before I could actually start moving.

I do know that there were many days where I laid motionless as I emerged from my drug-induced nether world.

Eventually I had some movement in my right leg, and with the help of a few friends and my nephew, plus the in-house rehab folks, we gradually obtained full motion of my right knee. It was especially pleasing to me because it gave me a lot of hope for my still-motionless left leg. It seemed as though it was imprisoned, confined to the constraints of that metal fixator.

Three months later the fixator was finally removed and rehab was started on my left leg. By this time my right leg was much stronger and bore most of my weight while rehabbing. Fast forward to present day. I decided to visit a surgeon at UPMC Sports Medicine who had treated my left knee prior to the accident. I basically wanted to bring him up to date about my injuries and to talk to him about the pain in my right knee. He had X-rays taken and after examining me, told me that it looked as though my right knee may have been fractured in the accident. So he had me go get an MRI. A week later I was able to get an MRI. The problem was that I would have to wait another two weeks for him to look at it and meet with me.

Upon hearing about my situation my rehab therapist at Sports Medicine South Side immediately took me off of weight bearing exercises on my right leg.

It seemed ridiculous to have to wait two weeks for answers.

Lucky for me, a good friend and our theatre company's board president is a world-renowned radiologist. Dr. Michael Ramsay was the first to offer his opinion of Mike Webster's x-rays, the former Pittsburgh Steeler who was the focal point of Will Smith's most recent film Concussion, which by the way was filmed here in Pittsburgh.

Sir Mikey, as I refer to him, is the Cyril Wecht of Radiology. By the way, his nickname for me is Lord Southers.

Anywho, I told Dr. Ramsay aka Sir Mikey about my right knee issue. He advised me to obtain a disk of my recent MRI. I picked one up and gave it to him. Below is his report.

MRI RIGHT KNEE:

Mark Clayton Southers 11/28/1961

MRI RIGHT KNEE UPMC Dec 28, 2015

Multiple pulse imaging sequences. Multiplanar. Unenhanced.

There is a moderately to marked right knee effusion with some low level echoes possibly representing blood products.

The articular cartilage of the patella reveals cystic erosive changes, attenuation, and a lateral tear.

The distal right femur shows moderate to marked spurring. There is a lateral avulsion fracture. This involves the metaphysis, the fused growth plate, and the epiphysis and is manifested as a large detached fragment with irregular margins of both the bony fragment and the donor site. Appears untreated. Chronic or possibly sub-acute as there is some associated minimal bone marrow edema.

There are medial joint compartment degenerative changes with reactive sclerosis.

The medial collateral ligament is thickened.

The lateral collateral ligament and the ilio-tibial band are intact.

The posterior horn of the medial meniscus is torn and markedly fragmented. The anterior horn of the medial meniscus shows a questionable inferior incomplete perpendicular tear. The anterior horn of the lateral meniscus shows a linear tear. The posterior horn of the lateral meniscus is intact.

The proximal tibia shows moderate to marked spurring and infero-posterior to the tibial spines there are two cystic spaces.

There is thickening of the posterior cruciate ligament. The anterior cruciate ligament is not seen: presumably it is torn.

IMPRESSION:

Degenerative changes.

Right knee effusion.

The articular cartilage of the patella reveals erosive changes, attenuation, and laterally, a tear.

The distal femur laterally shows a displaced fracture.

There is thickening of the medial collateral ligament.

The posterior horn of the medial meniscus shows a markedly fragmented tear. There is a questionable tear of the anterior horn of the medial meniscus. The anterior horn of the lateral meniscus shows a linear tear.

Absent and therefore most likely torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Michael J Ramsay MD, Board Certified in Radiology.

Yep, my right knee is jacked up. They must have missed it with all of my other injuries that they were addressing. But the good thing is, we found out about it.

Nothing left to say but ...

Onward!

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#43 Dozing Off

I'm sitting here in my living room in my wheelchair watching the Steelers game.

I sit close to the TV. Maybe a little too close. I'm expecting my oldest son at any moment to say "Hey, I thought we weren't allowed to stand so close to the TV?" I'd reply "Hey, I'm the boss! Besides I'm sitting and not standing".

I actually can stand up now, but I can't walk yet. I'm getting close but it's not safe to even try at this point. I'd need to be in a narrow room with railings, padded walls and floors to even attempt. My biggest fear is dozing off for an extended period of time in my wheelchair and waking up thinking I'm my former self that can walk. I'd stand up, take one step, and quickly go crashing to the ground, taking out furniture, the television, or even worse, a family member.

I've had just one fall so far since the accident. It happened at the rehab facility. My wife and mother were in my room. It was about a week before I was released. I had just gotten dressed and I was showing my family how I could walk with my walker. I decided to walk to my Occupational Therapy session with my walker. It wasn't too far away, just out my door and around the corner. I took four steps towards the door and I stopped and asked my wife to turn off my Bluetooth radio with my phone.

My phone was locked, so she handed it to me and I unlocked it and turned off the radio. During that brief moment I had let go of the walker totally forgetting that I can't walk or stand for more than a few seconds without it. I realized this as my body started to slowly drift to the right. "Whoa!" I yelled out! My mother and wife both screamed. My wife ran in front of me and caught me. We were all relieved. She stood me back up but the momentum sent me falling in the opposite direction. We all screamed again as I went crashing to the floor backwards taking my wife with me.

Halfway to the floor I spun her to the left and she landed on my lap spread eagle as we hit the floor. Her bottle of water went everywhere. The combination of the adrenaline, pain meds and landing mostly on my butt prevented me from feeling any pain. I laughed loudly as no less than six nurses and assistants rushed into the room. I said to them as my wife sat on my lap. "Hey, can't you see we're having a conjugal visit?" Everyone chuckled but my mom.

We were asked repeatedly, were we injured? The answer was no each time. However, late that night I started to experience some minor back pain. In the morning it was much worse, but I rode it out for a few days until it dissipated. Cause that's what men do.

I know, we're supposed to say something to the nurses. I'm getting better at it though.

I really did think it would just go away. And it eventually did; however, at one point I did think that the two metal rods in my back may have been bent from the fall. But as the pain dissipated so did that thought.

The only other fall that stands out in my mind is waking up from a lunchtime siesta at my former steel mill job. I stood up and attempted to take a step, but both legs were still asleep. I fell and hit the floor like a sack of bricks. It wasn't pretty. Once they saw that I wasn't injured my co-workers had a good laugh, myself included. I couldn't believe it. A double leg sleepation, Imagine that.

Hopefully that incident is ingrained into my muscle memory and will automatically send my body's brakes into the stoppage mode if I were to awaken and stand up from my wheelchair.

Another thing that really gets me about being in this wheelchair, is dozing off backwards and getting that painful neck snap back up.

You all know what I'm talking about.

It just happened when we made a big play and everyone yelled out.

Luckily there was no time for being embarrassed. Cause our Steelers just pulled it out!

Onwards!!!

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#44 My Hat

I'm enjoying being back at my crib. My home, my domicile. Being around my family 24/7. It's a wonderful feeling. I'm knocking out my little dreams one at a time. Dreams I had while away at the hospital lying there in my room. Dreaming of simple things. Things that I took for granted prior to the accident. Going to the Y to work out. Taking my circle of women friends and the kids to Dave and Busters for dinner and fun. Lying on my back on the nice plush green grass in my front yard. Thanks T-Pot for taking care of it! I actually stood up and hugged my daughter just yesterday and it felt so good.

But check this ... just a few minutes ago I found a big missing piece of my personal puzzle that went missing because of the accident.

My wife, who by the way has the Energizer Bunny beat ten times over. She's a whole nother Chronicle.

Anywho, she suggested that today while I'm chilling before tonight's Steeler game, that I should go through some of the many boxes of mail and stuff that's accumulated these past four months and discard what I can.

So I'm going through the very first box and there's this Pittsburgh suitcase sitting at the very top. It has a few knots in it, so I rip it open and lo and behold.... There it is! My long lost eighty-five dollar black Kango XXL Fedora.

It's complete with my two theatre pins on each side. I can't tell you how ecstatic I was. I let out a big yell and my family rushed into the living room to find me sitting there with my hat on.

My wife comes closer and inspects it. She tells me that it's wrinkled and has a few dents in it. I reply yes, it went through the same impact as us, but it never received the care that I did.

It was stuffed into a blue Giant Eagle bag at the junk yard and returned to Falling Rock with a host of other items.

Let me tell you, I've been online trying to find this hat. Because of my huge head I can't just stroll into any store and buy a hat. I usually have to get them special ordered from Yugoslavia.

No, but seriously, this is actually my second version of this hat. My original hat was lost in Ohio. You see, while in Columbus directing the musical "Passing Strange" a few years ago, I loaned my beloved signature hat to the theatre for the actor that played Stew to wear. It was the perfect hat for this character, and my man Ron Jenkins killed this role! It was one of the best performances I've seen and I rank it right up there with Don Marshall's "Levee", Wali Jamal's "Hedley", Rita Gregory's "Rose", Stephen McKinley Henderson and Les Howard's "Turnbo", Anthony Chisholm's "Solly Two Kings", Sala Udin's "Becker", Chrystal Bates' "Aunt Esther" and Kevin Brown's "Troy".

Now I know I done started some mess, and believe me there are many others deserving to be listed, but please don't trip, just let me finish my story.

Ron Jenkins from Columbus Ohio owned this role, so it was very easy for me to part with my hat for the sake of art.

Anywho, you all know how it goes in the world of theatre. Things go missing during the strike of a show. My black fedora that I bought in Florida was no exception.

So I finally found another one after a year of searching. I think I got this new one in New York.

When I was asked to be a part of the "I Am August" photo exhibit at the August Wilson Center, I thought to myself "Yeah, OK, but I must have my hat." Out of desperation I called my good friend Janis Burley Wilson. She dropped everything and brought several hats and a hat stretcher to the shoot in my hospital room.

I wasn't physically up for the photo shoot. I was extremely weak but my good friend Cheryl Walker did her best to make me look presentable. They propped up my emaciated body and did the photo shoot right there in my room. After the accident I had initially lost about eighty-plus pounds, but by this time I had gained at least thirty back.

But I felt and looked so weak. I finally saw the picture they chose. It was minus the hat. Everyone was like "Oh Mark, you look so much younger", but I felt I looked like a glistening dehydrated Paul Mooney.

But hey, finding my hat brings back nothing but great feelings. I feel just like my body form is coming back, so are its external attachments. Like my hat.

"My hat, my hat, my hat, my hat!"

My hat also covers my new "Been in the bed too long bald spot, on the back of my dome". I mean I just felt plain ole naked without it. I've been sporting my grey and black Pirates cap lately, which is cool. Even though we didn't go too far into October, we did have one helluva season.

Finding my hat two days before rehearsals start for my mentor August Wilson's Piano Lesson is simply amazing. I'm really pumped now. I'm in my element now. I have a dream cast and a dream designer team. I'm working once again with my long time friend and collaborator Janis Burley Wilson of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. We've made magic happen in the past multiple times and we're aiming for it again with this production.

I hope to see you in the house next month at the August Wilson Center.

Look for me, hopefully I'll be walking and.......wearing my black hat.

Onward!!!

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#45 This Christmas

Mark's Home Chronicles continue.......

This recent holiday season was a special one. Although it didn't feel as different as others, at least other than the beautiful spring-like weather.

It still hasn't hit me yet just how special this season was, but I know it is special, just for the mere fact that I'm still alive and that I was here to enjoy it with my family.

2015 was a short year for me. I mean I was unconscious for well over a month and I basically missed the entire summer while confined to a hospital bed. Not to mention my memory of things in the months prior to the accident are still only bits and pieces in my mind.

This holiday season came quick for me. For some folks as we grow older the excitement around Christmas begins to fade. For some it only grows stronger.

For me it was like, didn't I just put the Christmas tree away last month?

For the first time in a very long time — well, actually, since I was a teenager — for the first time since then I didn't go out shopping for friends and family. Primarily because of my inability to walk very well. Although I did go out once, but I really just accompanied my children to the mall to shop for Mom.

Navigating the crowded mall in a wheelchair during the holidays is an eye-opening experience. It felt like I was a third-class citizen at times, but there were however plenty of courteous people who moved to the side with genuine smiles as I wheeled by.

Using the handicapped restroom stalls, the elevators as opposed to the escalators and parking in the handicapped spaces were all new choices that I had to accept as I slowly realized that I was part of this world of forgotten people.

I didn't mind the parking though. It was really convenient.

Slowly wheeling through the fragrance department in Macy's was a nostril-opening experience. Being at that lower level, I experienced sights, sounds and smells to a whole different degree. But this was also true in the men's room. Reminded me of something August Wilson said through his character Troy from Fences. "You hafta take the good with the bad".

Anywho, let me tell you I've learned first hand just how precious our lives are and also how difficult life can be for people with physical challenges. Most times when I sit or lay down for an extended period of time I temporarily forget that I really can't walk that well. It's only when I attempt to get up that I'm quickly reminded of my debilitating injuries.

I did all of my shopping online and it was a beautiful thing. I felt special getting packages delivered just about every day. I'm glad that the bulk of them came while the kids were at school.

Listening to the Christmas music throughout the house was also heart-warming, especially the Temptations and the Jacksons singing the classics, and of course Nat King Cole. I must admit I was a little thrown listening to India Arie's Christmas album when she sang her version of one song where she threw in there "Watching Tyler Perry's new movie." I guess it just rhymed. Anywho, the biggest thing that was really missing other than my helping out more physically around the house was having a nice warm fire going in the fireplace. I guess we can blame that on the great weather.

2015 was a hard year for my family, a very hard year. But being able to enjoy the holiday season together kinda made up for it a little. It was a great feeling to be around my family. A little rough at times to not be able to do a lot of things, sometimes just the simplest thing like getting up to answer the door or going to the kitchen to get something from the fridge. I know my requests can wear my crew out at times, but we're all glad that at least i'm still here.

I'm taking it one day at a time friends. It's been a long and difficult process, both physically and mentally. But by the grace of God, support of my family and the strength of you good folks' kind words and much needed prayers, I'm slowly pushing forward. I hope you all had a great holiday season and I wish you all of the best for 2016!

Onward!

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#46 The Outing of a Myth

I told my eight year old son the other day, twelve days before Christmas, that Santa Claus wasn't real. Hold up, wait a minute, hear me out before you start getting too pissed off. I told him not because I wanted to ruin his Christmas but because he kept asking me right in front of his four-year-old little brother. I'd wink at him repeatedly as I shook my head yes. Plus I figured the truth was due anyway because his friends at school must have been razzing him about it.

I can't remember just when the Santa Claus myth was exposed for me, or just who told me. I'm quite sure it really didn't matter as long as the toys didn't stop coming.

See, when I grew up there were long lines at the Allegheny Center Mall where we all waited to take a picture with the really light-skinned chubby Claus. Until one year my dad finally had enough of that crap and started paying one of his chubby African-American co-workers from Alcosan to don a red suit and come to our house. We were like "Damn, Santa got a tan!" I don't think we actually said the word "Damn" but it sure felt that way. The jig was up; how could there possibly be two Santas? A White Santa aaaaand a Black Santa? We were conflicted just like the image of Jesus, depending on what church you visited. But we enjoyed the Christmas spirit nevertheless.

Besides the assumed pressure of his friends at school, I think my nephew, who is several months older than him, was also repeatedly pounding into Marcus's head that Santa wasn't real.

My wife and I discussed the fact that we really need to let him in on our secret at some point.

Then he asked me again just the other day in the living room. This time Andre our four year old was upstairs, however my wife was out running errands.

He looked me dead in my eyes and with great anticipation, he hit me with it once again. "Daddy, is he real?" I tried to play it off. I nonchalantly said "Who? Who's he?" He shot back with "Santa Claus". At this point by the tone of his voice I knew that he had already known but needed his father's final stamp of approval on it. So without my wife around to help carry out our agreed plan to tell him together ... I gave in. It was both a sad time for me as a father as far as parting ways with the wonderment of childhood but it was also a great opportunity to walk with him into the next phase of his youth.

"Son, ... no, he's not real."

He took it like a big boy, I immediately followed it up with "But you can't tell your little brother". He took it all in momentarily and then launched into a slew of questions. "Well, where does all the presents come from?" "Your mom and I." Actually I said "Me and your mom" but I wanted to sound correct.

"How do you do all of that shopping in one night?" He said. "We don't. We shop during the weeks prior to Christmas, your mom a month or two prior. I'm shopping entirely online this year because of the accident." "Oh" he said.

"Where do you keep all of the gifts?"

I told him we hide them in the closets on the third floor and under our bed in our bedroom, and we sometimes keep some of them in the trunk of the car until Christmas Eve and then we bring them in while you all are asleep.

Yes, it felt a little sickening to let him in on everything but I could see a transformation in his eyes taking place. It was as if he was learning a deep embedded truth whose knowledge was now empowering him. I didn't want to be left behind on his seemingly new train of thought that was building up steam so I peppered him with more information. "Hey, guess what? You can join our Christmas shopping group. It'll be you, mommy and I". Yeah, that's just how I said it.

"Really?" He said. "Yeahhh, of course you can, then we'll hide all the presents together."

We dapped each other up (fist bumps, handshakes and hugs). He then marched off towards the living room, now a bigger boy.

I sat there momentarily, all at once missing and thinking about my late father and all of the great Christmases we shared.

Going to watch the trains at the Buhl Planetarium, shopping at Buyers Mart downtown where the Greyhound Station now stands and picking out our tree at the Pittsburgh School for the Blind. Those are just a few of the fond memories that jetted through my mind. My parents did a wonderful job raising us. It's a different world these days but we keep trying our best through all of the pain out there that exists for little black boys. We strive to do right and just simply enjoy LIFE.

Hold on, my four-year-old just walked into the room.

"Yes Andre, what's up?"

.... "Is Santa real?"

Onward!

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#47 I Almost Died

It's just now sinking in. I mean, I have thought about it briefly. Mostly people reminding me, usually after my describing what had happened.

But now. While I sit in the darkness of the pre-dawn hours, reminiscing on my journey, I can't help but to think of how lucky I am. I also think of how unlucky others were.

I think about how things could have easily gone. My not surviving at the scene. Or on the way to the hospital or at the hospital itself.

My strong wife breaking from the grief, but bouncing back to handle the arrangements.

My friends at Jones Funeral Home pausing and perhaps weeping over my mangled body before preparing me for my final viewing. I apologize for taking you to this dark place but for me it could have easily been my reality. I talk about it because it's therapeutic and helps me appreciate that fact that I am alive.

Just yesterday two people were killed right after getting off a bus just four blocks from my house. I'm sure you heard about it. It was horrific. Just like that! They're gone.

Whenever I have down moments I try to think about just what things could have been like for me, and those thoughts give me the courage and renewed strength to push forward.

I went out with the kids the other day, The cab driver was a friend of our families. As I struggled to get into his van he looked over his shoulder at me not realizing that I was injured and barked "Just pull your leg over" I paused as if I expected him to know of my accident and injuries. Once I began to tell him he quickly remembered that something had happened to me, but he said that he could never get any information.

Yes, this is what birthed The Chronicles.

As we talked he mentioned to me that he personally knew four people who died on the same stretch of road where I crashed. He then went on to guess at why I crashed, as opposed to just asking me. After I didn't voluntarily offer the information he quickly ended that chapter by saying "That's alright, it really doesn't matter." I wasn't quite with him because I was still partially zoned into the fact that he knew four people that died on that road.

I looked back at my three children strapped into the back seat, and I was so happy and so glad that God spared my life. A lot of people believe that, while some think to themselves, why did God let that happen to you in the first place?

I personally believe that God created the universe and all of its inhabitants.

And that when things spin out of control, like my accident, then they are addressed. I'm no expert but that's where I am right now.

We arrived at our destination and my kids jumped into action helping to get me into my wheelchair and pushing me into the Convention Center and into the elevator.

I was humbled to be so lucky to have them by my side.

We entered the pet show and I rejoiced at the excited looks on their faces.

We weren't there too long before I ran into several friends. The first was a young lady from my high school days and her daughter. And I was mesmerized. The sound around me became muffled and everything slowed down. I was transfixed on them. If my wife was there, she would have thought that I was having a low blood pressure attack.

But you see, I wasn't. The woman introduced me to her daughter, telling her that I was a friend of her father's.

All at once I was frozen in time with memories of my good friend. They lost him when his daughter was just a young child. And now I sat there frozen with thoughts of him back in the day being so GQ and enjoying life. His daughter looked so much like him it was frightening.

I think her mother noticed that I was stunned and caught up in thought. We said our goodbyes and again I thought how lucky I am to still be here.

I then ran into my good friend Don Bell and his lovely wife.

We talked briefly, with Don inquiring on whether I was keeping up with the vitamins he had given me during a visit at the hospital.

I watched him and his wife disappear into the huge crowd from my low vantage point and I couldn't help but dream about my wife and I doing the same and enjoying life like they seemed to be.

It's funny, my dreams now include my injuries. It's close to 2 am and I just woke up from this fantastical dream where my left leg was still messed up.

It should have been a dream about the Steelers pulling off a victory over the Chiefs, but no, this was a futuristic dream where some kid, I think it was my oldest son Marcus, he designed an apparatus to turn my left leg into a functioning machine of some sort. But it led to nothing but kicking in doors and stomping out the bad guys. I didn't want any of that so I woke up. I moved my leg around a little just to wake it up and out of that dream too. I didn't want it to get too good to it, him or whatever.

I don't want to be a super hero. I don't need anything else to do right now other than be with my two families, the Southers Clan and my Theatre family.

I believe God slowed me down so that I can enjoy the things around me and give me the opportunity to study and become a better student of life and have a better relationship with him.

My friends, be glad you can put your socks and shoes on, your underwear, panties, thongs or whatever.

I can't, at least not right now. I need assistance. But I'm still here. My left leg and foot may have been severely mangled and almost lost, but my heart is still beating and my mind is undamaged.

Yes I almost died, but I didn't. I was given a chance to slow down and watch my children grow up and enjoy LIFE, and for that I thank the good Lord.

Onward!

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#48 Willie's Boy in Da Burgh

With Pops at the Pyramid Club (circa 1985) About to ask Mr. Stargell for his autograph, Circa Sept 1970

When I was laid up in the hospital I fantasized about all of the fantastical things I could do to change the face of downtown Pittsburgh once I emerged from that den of pain. I imagined a strip of black businesses directly across the street from the August Wilson Center. A black owned CVS, a barbershop, a dry cleaners, a bakery and several restaurants offering enticing menus that could satisfy the patrons of the August Wilson Center prior to attending performances there. Yes, I dreamed about that before and after my accident. And I imagined many other Black owned businesses scattered throughout the downtown corridor.

Yes, I was dream trippin'. It was as if I wasted all three of my genie wishes on changing the Burg's black consensus to that of Atlanta or Chicago or hell, even Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh has never been known as being a black city and probably never will be. But for some reason, and I can't speak for everyone, but for some strange reason I think Pittsburgh is going to change. And what I mean by change is that I imagine that at some point, and hopefully before I'm dust, at some point this city will be more hospitable to people of color.

Sure, we had our Jazz era in earlier decades and our 1970s sports era.

It's true that many of my friends have fled this city and are now scattered across the country enjoying shopping at African-American-owned establishments and enjoy dining at great soul food restaurants. But there are also plenty of us that have stayed in Da Burg. The reasons for staying vary.

I think some of the reasons why I stay are because of my familiarity with the city and the fact that my hero, my father, is buried here. Not only is he buried here, but the strong memories of our shared experiences are etched into my mind and connected to the multitude of places that we went to together. Usually it was as a family, but there were other times when it was just he and I.

As a boy, my father took me to different places all of the time. One place downtown was the Penn Camera store on Smithfield St. There he introduced me to all of the men that worked there. One gentleman that we always bought items from was Mr. Waldon. His son is a well-known photographer in the Dormont area.

I was amazed at all of the camera and darkroom equipment at Penn Camera and I fell in love with photography. It became my occupation for well over two decades, including a twelve-year stint with the New Pittsburgh Courier.

I'm glad I was exposed to this great field at a young age. It gave me something to hold on to as I navigated my way through my early young-adult life. I always loved going downtown. As a youth my friends and I used to go to all of the stores. Kaufmann's, Murphy's, Grants, McCrory's, The Hobby Shop, Candy-Rama, the list is endless!

But some things never change. Let's face it, downtown Pittsburgh has been the same like forever. Not counting African-American attorney offices, there are very few if any African-American-owned businesses in downtown Pittsburgh. Oh yeah, the barbershop that recently got tagged with KKK and other hateful messages. Having a minute business presence in a major metropolitan city has an effect on how we are perceived and treated.

One day I was downtown and I was walking past a fur coat store. I must have been in my late teens or my very early twenties. I stopped and looked through its windows at all of the gorgeous full-length fur coats on the mannequins.

I was amazed at how luxurious they looked. It was a world that I was unfamiliar with. I saw a female customer inside trying on a coat.

I noticed how graceful the employees moved around her and how gleefully they treated her.

I thought to myself, hey, I want to go in and look at something that my mother might like and, hey, even try on a men's coat myself. I knew that there was no way I could afford anything in that store even with a twenty year payment plan. Hell, even a layaway plan would have meant getting it right in time for my funeral. That certainly would have been a true layaway.

But hey, it wouldn't hurt to at least enjoy the experience of trying one or two on. So I went to the door and pulled but it was locked. I tried again and this time everyone in the store froze and starred at me. I motioned for them to open the door. I said "Are you closed?" They didn't respond. They turned back around and went back to what they were doing. I then saw a little gold or white button. Gold sounds appropriate in my mind but I actually think it was white for some reason. Anywho, I push the button and I can hear it buzzing inside but no one moved a muscle.

So I push the button again and this one man in a nice suit turns around and comes to the door and stares at me.

I say "Are you open?" He doesn't respond. I say "I want to try on some coats". He calmly shakes his head "No" all the while with a slight smirk on his face.

I know that smirk. And I now know why he's refusing me entrance. Every black man reading this has been subjected to that same smirk. So without missing a beat I say "Aw man, my dad sent me down here to look at some coats for him ... and my mother, they're supposed to be meeting me here in a little bit". He looks back over his shoulder and mouths something to an older gentleman behind the counter. An older woman walks up to him saying something. He turns back towards me and says "Who's your father?" Without blinking an eye I say "Willie Stargell." He immediately opens the door and a flood of apologies begin. And then the remarks about my false dad's accomplishments, and even the promises of going up into the hill to buy some chicken one day.

The man that was at the door took off my coat and before I knew it they were throwing fur coats on me one after another at a dizzying pace. "You're about your fathers height right?" "Ah ... yeah I think so." I replied. "But he weights more than me" I added. Then the woman hit me with a barrage of questions about my mom or rather Willie's wife. "Do you happen to know what size your mother is?" I quickly said "Your size, maybe a little taller." She turned and disappeared into a back room.

The older man had now come from behind the counter. He stood real close to me. If I had a yellow pencil I could draw for you right now what his teeth looked like. He stood inches from my face. Every tooth in his mouth was accounted for, but they had a coffee-like sheen to them. He started telling me all about Forbes Field and the games he saw there. And that he never went to Three Rivers Stadium. I don't remember why that was and it didn't really even matter. I was in on a Willie Ticket! "Let the coat-trying-on begin!" Actually it should be "continue!" But begin sounded more ... more uh, help me out here. More prosematic. If that's even a word.

The woman returned with a short white fur coat and placed it on the rack that she had pulled out earlier, then she exited again into the back room for more I guess. "Your father is a slugger. But you know that already. Strikes out a lot, but when he gets a hold of one you can kiss it goodbye!" The old man chuckled after he said that and then it was back to business. "What time did your dad say he was coming?" "Oh, he should be here shortly", I replied. "Good, good. And he wants one for your mother also, right?" he said, while making his way back behind the counter. "Absolutely," I replied.

I felt like I was untouchable being Willie's Boy. Like all of a sudden I was the black prince of Pittsburgh, I could gain admittance to anywhere in the city, well, almost anywhere. I don't think the Duquesne Club would have cared much that I was Willie's Boy. And then I was caught off guard. The momentum that had built up suddenly slipped into reverse. "What school are you in?" The old man snapped from behind the counter. "Ah, I'm not in school right now" I said cautiously. "Well, what high school did you attend?"

"Um, I wanted to go to Schenley but my parents made me go to Central Catholic." He gave me a look after that. "Why aren't you in college?" "Um, I'm taking a break, my mom's not doing too well so I wanted to stay home and help her out." I'm starting to get nervous and I think they all sensed it.

Meanwhile the lady has at least five coats on this rack for my make-believe mother to try on. Now I'm thinking of an exit strategy. I take the heavy mink I think off and say, "Uh, let me go over to the garage and see if my dad needs help getting her out of the car."

I quickly exited the store and made a bee line to the Gimbels parking garage across the street. I entered and then exited the other exit that let out on Liberty and went on about my day.

Hey, I got to try on some nice fur coats. I was happy. I didn't feel guilty about the scam one bit. I chocked it off to my reparation debt.

I had met Willie Stargell several times before and after. But I never said anything. Besides, I think he would have just chuckled at the whole situation.

I drive by that same store every evening on my way to rehearsal. I can't tell what color the doorbell is but I see that it's still there. It's not white though. Probably bronze I'm thinking now.

Yes, Pittsburgh has a long way to go for African Americans to really feel welcomed. Although that experience happened three decades ago I'm quite sure my son will experience the same or similar denials once he starts visiting downtown establishments.

It's a struggle but the ones who have stayed here and are raising their families are trying to make this truly a great place to live.

Onward!

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#49 Yes Homo

Anthony Williams from the play "Loving Black"

Ya'll ain't ready for this...

As I continue my ongoing healing process, I'm starting to get out a little more and more. I'm also starting to tune in spiritually to just what my purpose may be in the aftermath of my accident. So I'm going to go with what my heart, mind and soul wish me to express.

I recently went to see a play, and you know this is a tough one. I have so much to say but I'm going to try to stay on track to get my point across. So let me make my point up front right now so it doesn't get diluted...

People need to adjust their views on the gay community.

There, I said it. And I'll also say this, and I'm going to borrow a line from this play I saw. "I'm only gonna live this life once, so I might as well live it to please myself, not you". It was something like that. So I'm going to put my thoughts out there without worrying about what some people may think.

That play that I mentioned I saw recently ... was gay as hell! And I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but there's really no other way to say it.

It was gayer than a mother F'er. But guess what? It was good as hell. Not that hell is good, but you get my drift.

I know a slew of people that would have gotten up and walked out. A slew of homophobic folks. Hey, I would have been one of them had I not been exposed to just what it must be like growing up gay.

See, I raised a gay child. My first marriage came complete with a bright but quiet three year old boy. It wasn't long before I realized he was also effeminate. So for the next eleven years I tried everything that I thought was my normal in my straight male mind. I simply did what I actually thought was the right thing to do and say. "Don't hold your wrist bent and your hand down like that", "Don't lay on the sofa like that", "Put some bass in your voice!" The list goes on and on.

I can't imagine just how painful it must have been to be on the opposite end of that litany of insults, being told not to do something that's just a part of your developing physical makeup.

My experience would have been somewhat reminiscent of a white family raising a black youth in this cruel world that we live in, and expecting that child to be content with the music of his household. Well ... maybe.

I have a lot of gay friends, now you see, I sound like a white person who slipped up and said the N word at a cocktail party. "Hey, I have plenty of black friends!" But the reality is that I do have many friends in the gay community, and you know what, I need to stop placing them in a virtual community. I have gay friends, get over it! Yeah, probably because I'm involved with the arts, but who cares?

I could give a damn what they do behind closed doors, and please don't give me that bible condemnation crap.

If God created everyone equal, then dammit we're equal. If you want to be considered equal whether you're male, female, black, white or belong to another ethnic group, if you are striving to be considered equal, then stop looking down your nose at gay people.

Sure, there are some slimy gay folks that get on your nerves but there are slimy folks in all sectors of life. You don't have to deal with them. Put them in their place just like you would an aggressive pervert and keep it moving.

Hey look, I'm a straight male, and outside of my wife I don't discuss my sexual stuff with anyone, so why would I care what another man chooses to do behind closed doors?

I'm not asking any of you to agree with me, I'm speaking up because I found myself in a situation to gain a better appreciation for just how they evolve and struggle to make their way through life. I really just want you to understand that they deserve to live their life unencumbered by insults and bigotry.

Let me say this ... I don't think there's one gay person walking this earth or that ever existed that decided at some point of their young life that they wanted to be gay. I think the only real choice that they're capable of making is just when and where they want to let their secret out.

If you're wondering where all of this is coming from, it was that play. Not that it opened up my consciousness, but that it reminded me of joy, how precious any life can be. The play was about a young black man growing up gay. It was both funny and sad, some more funny but most of all it was enlightening. It was like watching a flower bloom from a crack of a hardened beat-down dirty city pavement.

And guess what, straight folks, we're that dirty pavement. Unlike the fond memories that we all may have had of growing up, our combined disdain for gay people has poured that concrete that smothered out any potentially enjoyment of a childhood for them.

It was a beautifully written and performed play that opened the door wide open on a segment of our world that we seldom see displayed on this level.

All of this is just my observations and opinion. But see, I witnessed it many years ago, and had I not, I'm quite sure I'd still be walking around fearful of being around gay people like it's a disease.

I consider myself lucky and fortunate to have been placed in a situation that allowed me through attrition to be enlightened. Let me tell you something, I love my first son, the same as I love all of my children. If my situation was duplicated multiple times over in this and other areas such as racism, these United States would surely be ... United.

Onward!

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#50 Weekend Update (Edited)

I wasn't going to write about this experience but I have to. It's about my recent brief dealings with the drug Prozac. Let me first say this. It does its job with keeping depression at bay, I'll give it that.

The Pittsburgh Stillers disappointment aside, I've noticed zero depression, but the one Prozac side effect that I find annoying is that it destroys any thoughts of creativity. Well, at least for me it does, so these medium-sized green pills will definitely be heading down the drain to Alcosan at some point. Well actually, that's probably not a good idea, but I will have to discard them. Especially since I'm at the helm of a theatre company and I'm responsible for putting together a season of creative theatrical productions. Not to mention that we're about to produce my own new play which still needs some scene adjustments.

If I stay on this drug that is definitely not going to happen. If I had to choose one word that describes what Prozac does to me, it would be that its effect leaves me feeling complacent. If I was afforded the opportunity to choose a second word it would be lethargic.

I mean I really have to push myself to not only get through writing this chronicle, but just to even sit down and sort out the topic and begin to write it was tough.

In other rehab news the swelling in my left leg is completely gone. As a matter of fact my left leg is starting to look a little too skinny, but it looks a lot better than a few weeks ago. But it's heading quickly towards being a bone only. I'm thinking my coming off of my blood thinner may be part of it.

In other good news, my good friend Wali Jamal brought me over two very nice walking canes a few days ago and they are perfect. I can get up off of the couch much easier and around the house much better as well. I try not to use them around the boys though. I don't want then to see me struggling or looking any older than I need to. It's rough enough that their father is a half a century older than them already.

Especially Andre; I think he has juvenile Tourette syndrome, he has no filter. Just the other day he came up to me and said, "Daddy, when are you getting up? You been on the couch for like nine hours". I'm like, "Wow, he's really paying attention to what I'm doing".

In other recovery news, I'm starting to notice that it's beginning to hurt when I sit for a long extended period of time. I attribute this to the fact that I've gained just about all of my pre-accident weight back. But the problem is, is that my bottom muscles i.e. my butt cheeks have not developed fully back properly. So my weight is pushing my bones down on soft flesh and into my seat causing pain a lot sooner. I'm going to have to work on that. You hear that Rachel Salinetro? She's my trainer at the Y when I do make it down there.

I just thought I'd share that with you so that the next time you're sitting around on your a#% all day, unlike me you can be proud of the fact that at least you can do it for a longer period of time.

I'm hoping that my couch potato activities can be attributed to the fact that it was a holiday weekend and there wasn't much to do but sit around and watch the kids play with toys. Anywho I'll explain why this Chronicle has "edited" in its heading at a later date. I have much work to do to as I continue my healing all the way around.

* - UPDATE - So my doctor's office is saying that I shouldn't be taking it (Prozac) during the day but at night so that the lethargic type feelings won't be present when I wake up in the morning. We'll see. I'll try it and see what happens. Feel free to chime in with your own Prozac experiences. If you're not comfortable talking about it I understand. But if deep in your heart you want to join me in helping people, then preface it by saying "A friend of mine said..." or "I've heard that...". Or in-box me and I'll creatively disguise it for you. Anywho you get my drift.

Happy Holidays folks!

Onward!

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#51 Dream Sequence Two

I almost didn't write about this. Mainly because it's a little embarrassing in that I almost failed as a parent. Nothing super crazy, but on the level of leaving your kids in the car while you run into Get Go to play the lottery. Well, you be the judge.

I should also mention that after I wrote Chronicle #41 - Dream Sequence One, that I would write about my dreams that stuck with me regardless of the topic, or whatever depths they took me to, or any embarrassment that they may bring.

Why? Because these are my chronicles where the truth ... must be told.

I don't remember too much of the beginning of this dream. I'm thinking that my memory picks up somewhere around the half point. I can go back as far as where I was in a very large dark house. My daughter is with me and two other people. I believe they were family, possibly my two boys.

So we're involved in some sort of immersive theatrical experience, and at one point for some reason people start dying. And I'm thinking real dying, not fake "This is just a movie" type of dying. Either the acting was superb or these people were actually getting F'd up at every other turn. It wasn't bloody dying, just like those old whodunit type mysteries, a body here a body there kinda thing.

But we, my little group of folks, are hanging in there. That would be my daughter and the two other folks who remain nameless. So we're rolling with the punches. Bodies are showing up everywhere in this house, but my daughter and I are like, "Well, we do like to watch spooky movies" so we hung around a little longer. That is until my daughter opened this closet and there was this big-ass clown suit hanging from a hook. OK, time to roll! We don't do clowns! Come to find out it wasn't just a clown suit, there was someone in the suit!

Next thing I know I commandeered a sled of some sort and the four of us are headed down a long flight of steps and out the front door.

And this big-ass clown was right on our heels, and the women who invited us to this theatre type maze of a play was standing on the porch calling out to us to come back for the conclusion. We said nothing as we jetted down the grassy hill.

Coming up the hill in broad daylight where a large group of white men spread out across this hillside. They were all dressed in clothing from the eighteen hundreds. It seemed like the bottom half were miner pants and the top half had some kinda insignia on it. It was a medium sized patch right in the middle of their chests.

Our sleigh slowed a little as we approached this one man. It seemed like he had a reddish beard and he was singing and carrying a lantern. The other men were spread out. Some were near the bottom of this large hill and others were off to the sides. I could only see figures but the fact that they were all singing the same song it was apparent that they were all together.

They were singing this sort of union fight song. It was familiar to me. At least In the dream it was, but not now as I write this. I don't have a clue of what it really was. But in the dream I vaguely remembered it. It seemed like they wanted to block our path, that is until I starting singing the same song.

I really was just repeating what they were saying, but with more gusto. The large man with the red beard smiled at us and stepped aside offering us safe passage.

We continued our journey down that grassy hill (yes, there was no snow, but we were on a sled) and around a bend and then past a familiar looking park. It was the opposite side of the big hillside that we slid down to avoid the clown and the singing deadman with the red beard.

Anywho we were moving pretty fast when I heard something, I looked back and my daughter had jumped off. Apparently her dog had jumped off.

I'm like when did Toto join us. He wasn't at the spooky house with us. Just when did he show up?

So she's walking around in the middle of the road; clearly we are out of danger so I pull over and walk back to see what's going on. She's standing in the middle of the street. She bends down and picks up a clump of her dog's hair. It's black hair, which was odd because her dog is white. Anywho there's a trail of this hair and it leads to a big-ass parked four door white Cadillac. All of the windows are up and we can see her dog on the floor in the back with another dog.

My daughter opens the back door and gets in to grab him and the door closes and locks behind her.

She kicks the window out and it wraps around her ankle like an absorbent piece of plexiglass. Or a dream type of window that didn't shatter. Anywho I pull it off of her leg and we made our way back to the sled. Then these white alarm type lights started going off all over the place. They were LED lights.

One came from above the door at Madison School where the first grade was and where people now vote. The others came from other areas surrounding us and then four young brothers dressed as security guards approached us carrying blinking lights as well. They were a cross between underpaid security guards and the F.O.I. Police. I was carrying my daughter at this time and she was crying. I looked down at her leg and she had a big gash on it. That's when I woke up.

Analysis

The whole immersive theatre thing comes from a recent FB post that I saw where a friend was offering a comedy class and she also was the main author of several local and national immersive theatre experiences that received national attention. They were all great theatre experiences, but without the bodies. Yes, she was also the woman on the porch asking us to come back.

I noticed that there were a lot of reverses. The color of the dog's hair, the sledding on the grass and the

I think the sled came from a combination of images. One was of the Xfinity cable TV screen savers. The one that was a picture of three empty sleds. Also I had watched a few episodes of "How It's Made". During one of the episodes they showed how wooden sleds were made.

The dead men walking, and I say "dead" because they looked like ghosts, plus their outfits were from another era, I think that they were meant to be fellow union steelworkers, since I was a steelworker for eighteen and a half years. Maybe they were on their way to a union picnic. Or returning from a very early Labor Day parade. I'm thinking that their outfits were a mix of workers clothes and baseball jerseys from the eighteen hundreds. Probably from watching that Green Bay Packer commercial and the guy orders the wrong throwback suits. Although it was football, I think my mind switched it to baseball since I was more involved with baseball than football.

The park reminded me of the island of Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I think that comes from some mental observation of the gentrification that is rapidly taking place in my neighborhood in the upper Hill District.

Also that I've put so much time into trying to present equal opportunity theatre to a lopsided theatre-going community. Which has been both frustrating and at times rewarding.

Now where the bad parenting comes in. Us being at that house of bodies as opposed to viewing something that would be more appealing and educational for my young family, and especially with the absence of Mom tells me that I need to get my own community groove back on.

I missed my full shot of Black Nativity boost at the end 2015. I also mentally prepared to take the kids to a recent Kwanzaa celebration but physically could not make the journey.

I'm thinking that this part of the dream was a gentle reminder from my ancestors to make a better attempt to honor them by exposing my children to our African and African-American cultural offerings.

I also had a conversation earlier in the day with a neighbor that asked me was I going to see the Tyler Perry play that was coming to town. I tried my best to gently tell them "No I would not be attending" without going into the politics of black theatre but I could not.

I know this is a whole "'Nother" Chronicle, but I'll just say this for now.

I'm working on myself.

Oh, and by the way I also, because I was still in the hospital, I missed our annual Sugartop Reunion up at the park. My good friends Jeff and Tonda did bring me a tee shirt to the hospital.

I'll definitely be at the next one this coming July!

Also I should mention that my wife was out of town during this particular dream, so it was just the "walking" me in the dream with the kids. Aaaaand I'm thinking that the two little ones were faceless or not identified was because my wife probably would have not allowed me to take them, or the fact that just my daughter and I like to watch scary movies.

My daughter looking for her dog came from the actual fact that earlier in the day her white Morkie "Bently" — a designer breed of dog which is a cross between a purebred Yorkshire terrier and a purebred Maltese — Bently ran off and she had to chase him for four blocks all the way down to Anaheim Street to catch him before he finally tired and she was able to scoop him up.

All the time without a winter coat or any coat for that matter on. I sat helpless at home during her adventure, but in my dream I was able to assist her. Yes, the walking me was helpful but only in my dream.

As far as her dog showing up out of the blue, that was another opposite.

I think that came from Toto going missing during the recent telecast of The Wiz live. There was this funny meme of him sitting backstage with his arms crossed pissed that he wasn't getting any stage time.

I think my daughter getting a gash on her leg came from my exposing her to possible danger by asking her to show an apartment to a stranger earlier that day. Yes, another bad parenting move.

Had my wife been in town, she would have kept me on the straight and narrow. Luckily for me my older brother stopped by and I was able to send him over to accompany her and bring her home safely.

I think the four young African-Americans with the white L.E.D. lights were in actuality my own siblings, my other three brothers and my sister possibly shining a light on the situation and having my back.

Yes, there are lots of lessons to learn from your dreams. And telling the truth about your shortcomings is not only liberating but also places you on the right path to learning. Preparing and teaching you to get it right in the real world.

Onward!

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#52 The Other Woman

I know most folks are rushing to see just what this Chronicle is all about. Like "Whaaat, he gonna talk about his side chick?" Well, yes I am. Cause you know it's all about keeping it real in the Chronicles.

My other woman is special to me. She's been around now for quite some time. She always seems to be right there keeping me feeling good. As matter of fact I met my current wife with her standing right there on the Stephen Foster stage when we both were in Kuntu's production of Rob Penny's Boppin' with the Ancestors. And when I proposed to my wife in the audience during the third scene of John Cariani's Almost Maine at South Park Theater, my boo was right there quietly watching but understanding, knowing she was still gonna get lots of time with me.

But I guess the biggest surprise is that all three of us rejoiced together when my wife and I "Jumped the Broom" on the set of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom at Florida's American Stage Theatre.

Yes, my wife knows all about her. I know it sounds strange. But as strange as it may sound, this is the key to making a relationship work. And I hafta say, and I hope my wife doesn't get mad at me for me putting her business out there, but this is the Chronicles. She and my wife used to be good friends. But after my wife met me she had to leave her alone. I wasn't happy about it, but that's just the way it is.

She still sees her occasionally, usually during opening nights of a play, or at cast parties.

Now, one thing that I have to be careful of is the amount of time I spend with my side boo. But it's hard when your love runs so deep. But after spending time with her I try to get home at a decent hour to tuck the boys in, and maybe read them a book.

See, one of the reasons why my wife doesn't mind us kicking it, is because she knows I'm not out there running the streets, hanging out at bars or gambling our hard earned dollars away at the casino. She knows that me and my side boo are just chilling, enjoying ourselves in a safe and clean environment. Yeah, I love my wife for understanding and letting me have my space.

But back to my side chick, cause she just gets me so excited. Let me tell you a little about her.

She can be very bright at times, but also very dark. She's warm and if you treat her right, I mean if you come prepared and give her the attention she requires, man, she'll wrap her arms around you and hold you for the rest of your life. She will cause you to go broke sometimes, but what she offers as a friend will enrich your life like nothing else. Hey, she's taken me around the world! Italy, Poland, South Africa, London twice and Ireland three times!

Sometimes I think my wife gets a little jealous, but she understands. She knows how she used to make her feel.

But she gave all that up for me. It's sad, I know, but they just didn't get a chance to develop the way me and boo 2 did.

I know the whole thing sounds kinky, but hey, that's my life. I'm lucky that I have a wife that understands.

And to all the woman out there that take issue with your man spending time with her, you should be grateful that she's out there bringing joy to him. Putting a smile on his face and fulfilling him on the inside and sending him home happy and accomplished.

I know a lot of ya'll is getting pissed. Saying stuff like "He got a lot of nerve!"

"How could he?" "I'm gonna hafta ask Neicy about this S#^€!" or "Just who is this BITCH!!!"

Well, calm down, I'll tell you. Most of you already know her. She gets around.

She's a lot older than me. Like a cougar, but that's what makes it so nice. She knows how to take care of a brother. We often get criticized, but we always bounce back. Aw man, I get so excited when I'm around her. Hey look, I write about my experiences! That's what I do! You don't have to read this! Don't be judging me because I want to come clean about my relationships! Shoot, in some parts of Africa the men can have multiple wives.

And don't get me started on the Mormons.

Well, I heard I may be partly from Senegal, so in that case maybe some of my original DNA is taking over!

They say we only use a small amount of space in our brains, well, maybe I've tapped into an additional amount that speaks to me. That says "Hey, it's okay, man. Go on and enjoy your time with your side chick". And you know what? That's just what I'm doing.

And some of you woman got a side boo too. I see ya'll doing your thing. Be all smiling acting like a different character in front of the public. It's cool. I understand. Ya'll just trying to be happy too. Shooting for the stars!

I will admit I was a little down cause I didn't get a chance to see her the whole time I was in the hospital and at rehab. But I understood. Yes, my wife was there every day. I know, I know what you're thinking. "He just like that guy in the movie Cocoon. His wife was by his side non-stop and as soon as he recovered from cancer or whatever was wrong with him, he was back out there chasing women!"

But you just don't understand.

See, my side chick was a little weak without me, full of drama. Yes, she can be a drama queen, but my wife... see I can tell right now ya'll ain't gonna even understand this. My wife actually got back with her and helped her out while I was down.

And my friends, the ones that know about me and her, oh they called me and kept me up on what she was doing.

They told me she sold out on me for several weeks. But that's cool. Just wish I woulda been there for her.

My side boo. Oh, I love her so much.

I wasn't mad that I didn't see her. Just a little disappointed that I couldn't be with her.

But I'm home now. And it's back on. I have the best of both worlds. My wife just cooked me a great breakfast. I'm playing with the boys. Getting ready for the Steeler game and I spent three hours with my side boo last night. I won't see her again for a few days.

What? Come on, ya'll. Why ya'll so disappointed? I'm happy! Doesn't that mean anything to you? Ya'll just cold! So judgmental of a brotha. Can't we just all get along?

What's her name? Psss... I ain't telling you her name. At least not right now. You ain't messin' up my stuff. Hey I gotta roll. Gotta finish getting ready for the game. Then off to go see Stevie Wonder Monday night with Wifey and then it's off to rehearsal Tuesday night with my side boo. Yes, five straight nights with her. Yes, LIFE is good, folks. I love my wife, and I love ... Okay, I'll tell you her name. I love Theatre too.

Gets some theatre on the side ya'll! It's good for the soul.

Onward!

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#53 Neck Juice

I can't quite remember how old I was, but when I was very young I noticed a tightening in my neck. It was right below the skin on the right side of the front of my neck. Without hesitation I touched that area and a clear liquid emerged. I then squeezed it and a clear liquid streamed out. I continued squeezing it until it ran out.

I ran and told my mother about what just happened and too my surprise she calmly told me that it's been there since birth. She explained how she would just wipe it away until one day she decided to take me to the doctor. He informed her that it was nothing more than an open pore. But that it was rare. For years after my discovery of it I hid its existence. I was ashamed that I had a human geyser just below the surface of my skin, and that it was open for business 24/7.

I was so good at hiding its existence that the person closest to me, my older brother Rick, didn't know of it. Until one day while playing basketball, it made itself known unannounced. Unbeknownst to me it had emerged in a much thicker stream and it slowly oozed out of hiding into the world for all to see.

"Ew, what is that slime on your neck?" "Oh man, you got snot coming out of your neck!" These are just a few of the remarks that I initially heard from Kendal, Kenny, Darryl and Rick.

Overcome with shame, I quickly wiped it off and attempted to pick our game of 33 back up. But I had no takers. They all seemed to be horrified by its sight, even the ones who tried to catch a glimpse of it before I made it disappear into the sleeve of my tee shirt.

Just the description repelled them.

Eventually the hype of its initial showing settled down and we resumed our game. But for those who witnessed it first-hand, it was steady on their minds.

I noticed that they chose not to tease me about it. I'm assuming that it was because of fear. Fearful that I may flick the next batch in their direction.

Suddenly I had a clear lane to the hoop and I wasn't hacked anymore. I easily stole the ball off of folks and my jump shots were no longer swatted away.

My friends actually showed me much respect out of fear of the Neck Juice!

Yes, it was the birth of a superhero and that superhero was me!

My personal geyser was now a fun thing to have. I was proud of it and considered myself lucky, very lucky.

I started charting its flow, you know, like its Squirt length and its duration.

I was like age twelve at the time, so I was really into experiments.

Its longest squirt was fourteen feet! Really, and It would last like 2.6 seconds.

I also made note of its clarity. Like what they do for diamonds. It usually was clear for the most part, but I noticed that if I was sick, sometimes it would have a milky look to it. And when I really ran hard or played outside with a lot of exertion then it oozed out thick.

But what really freaked me out is that during the Easter holiday it ran out blood red! Just kidding, that never happened, but I used to tell folks that when I was a kid.

But I will say this. I know it's a good liquid, because every once in awhile a single hair will grow out of that pore, and it's the most beautiful neck hair ever. It grows long very quickly and it's silky soft to the touch. It never turns back inwards to become an ingrown threat. So I know the juice is good.

As I got older and more mature I didn't talk about it much. Only when my childhood friends inquired. One friend teased me about it in front of a few friends inside the 6:30 Bar on Herron Ave one night. He was drinking and having a good time and then he held up his empty glass and yelled out, "Hey Mark, how about a round of that neck juice?" Everyone was laughing and I said "Okay" and I squirted him in his forehead. He froze in horror as it ran down his face.

I was shocked because it was so perfect. Smack dabba dead in the center! I was expecting someone to hand me a big stuffed animal. No fight ensued because we were actually really good friends. I apologized saying that I was really aiming for his shoulder but I missed.

Another of my memories of the neck juice exploits is when I coached Little League Baseball for many years and how everyone was always amazed at how well behaved my players were.

Well, I think you know where I'm going with this. Yes, I threatened them that if they didn't sit still while in the dugout that I'd squirt a little juice in their direction. Hey, don't judge me. You try managing a dozen or so nine to twelve year olds for three hours in eighty degree weather. I had to use what was in my arsenal.

Anywho, yes, my neck juice has served me well, although my squirt length has decreased over the years. I think now on a good day I may reach six feet.

I get requested every now and then for a demo, usually at the barbershop when I run into one of my former Little League ball players or when I run into friends at one of my high school class reunions.

I don't know of anyone else that has one, although there was this family myth of one of my aunts having one. But she never claimed it. Maybe she was too ashamed of it. Who knows.

The reason why I wanted to chronicle my neck juice experience, was because I showed it to my sons way before my accident. Many months ago, like sometime in 2014. And out of nowhere the other day, my youngest son Andre came up to me while I was laying on the couch and said "Daddy, do you still have juice in your neck" I laughed and said "Yes, I still have it". I guess he thought I might have lost it during the accident. He then reached over and started poking at my neck. I'm like "You wanna see some neck juice?" He's like "Yes". I was like "What? Really?" He shook his head yes. So I aimed away from him at a napkin and fired off a little. He was amazed and did not run like every single other person whoever saw it in my entire lifetime, and I'm like YES!!!

He is my number one and only fan! He asked could he touch it. I said naw you don't need to touch it. He held his hand up to his neck and said "Do I have neck juice?" I smiled and said "Not yet son, not yet." And in that moment that he began to lower his head in disappointment, I said "But soon you will, when you are older." I then dabbed a little bit on his forehead like in the Lion King.

He lifted his head back up with a huge smile beaming from his face. I pulled him closer and hugged him tightly.

It's great to be a super hero......

Onward!

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#54 My Baker's Dozen

This is a message for all of the actors and theatre folk of color out there, or at least in Pittsburgh. Please do not allow yourself to be suspended into a place of pisstivity when these year-end best plays of the year lists are released. Simply ask yourself this question.

Who are compiling these list? I will guarantee you that Ninety-Nine point Nine, Nine, Nine percent are put together by people of non-color, i.e. Caucasian folks.

And guess what? It's really not their fault. It's not their fault that they're pissing you off. They're simply acting in accordance to where society has led them or rather afforded them to exist. Hell, if I were a critic and complied a list of my favorite plays, well, for one, I'd maybe have to go to multiple cities just to complete it, but if I would put together a list, more times than not it would consist of plays that appealed to me and my African-American culture. Something that is so innate to me that just sitting there with my eyes closed I could feel connected.

It's pretty much the same thing for the 99.9 percent white critics that have a stronghold at our major newspapers and media outlets. Not that they don't feel the sense of a strong black play, but they just might not be able to take that same full journey that a black person would.

So get over it.

There are very few critics of color, so once again white privilege continues to float freely in our ethers.

Every once in a while a black play will be chosen for inclusion in their prestigious year end lists. But think about it, it mirrors the seasons that were selected by the theatre companies' white artistic directors. That's just the way it is. They choose a group of plays to present that appeal to them, their board members and their patrons. And we know that other than the few African-Americans that may be on their boards the bulk of these folks are Caucasian.

Unfortunately we don't have the Audelco awards here in Pittsburgh; that would certainly help to ease the pain of being over looked for many. We did for a good stretch have the Onyx awards, which were great, and they even had a category for minorities. Yes, they did. They gave out the best minority actor and actress award. These awards were given to actors of non-color. Yes, they were for white people. It was different. I got a giggle out of it initially, but I think it was a statement. A way of showing just how twisted things really are.

Yes, things are stacked out there in the world of entertainment; as much money as we African-Americans spend on it, you would think there would be a larger representation of us in film and television. But it's slanted. I salute the Black actors that are out there trying to exist and make a living doing what their passion and desire drives them to do.

Yes, it's an uphill battle each and every day, but by no means do not let up on your grind black thespians! Just don't get pissed off or drown yourself in sorrow at the end of the year's outcome of what a critic thinks were the best.

I mean after all, they do say it's what "they" thought were best. Sure, it's nice to be acknowledged, but if you had a great production and you got a chance to bond with folks and patrons told you how much they enjoyed your performance and close ones brought you flowers, then isn't all of that enough? It's tough enough to even get cast in a play in the first place. So there, you are special!

Now here's my almost BLACK List.

A baker's dozen of great plays or theatre events in Pittsburgh during 2015. (In no specific order.)

#1 - Black Nativity (Shona Sharif African Dance and Drum Ensemble)

#2 - Loving Black (Anthony Williams at the New Hazlett Theater)

#3 - How I Learned What I Learned (Pgh Public Theater)

#4 - The Meeting (New Horizon)

#5 - FENCES (Pgh Playwrights)

#6 - B.U.S. - (Bricolage)

#7 - Lower Ninth (Caravan Theatre)

#8 - Sancho (Trust Presents Series)

#9 - Sunset Baby (City Theatre)

#10 - The Piano Lesson (Pgh Playwrights)

#11 - Small Engine Repair (Barebones)

#12 - The Dance on Widows Row (New Horizon)

#13 - Smokey Hollow (A new play reading by Rob Zellers at the Playhouse in Oakland.)

* - Special mention of ATC and all of the great work that they do under the leadership of Hallie Donner.

* - And a great workshop of John Henry: Mechanics of a Legend. Written and produced by Anya Martin and her Hiawatha Project.

So there it is. Congrats to all! Now give yourself a big hug and keep it moving.

Onward!

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#55 The D Word Part 1

When I was a young man in my twenties, I dated a young woman who was studying to become a psychologist.

I myself was navigating through the world holding down three jobs to both satisfy my guilt and appease my father for dropping out of college where I had hopes of becoming a veterinarian.

On one of the few trips home from the south, my girlfriend decided to give me an impromptu psychological test, if you will. It was right above the ink splotch test. She pulled out several index cards each depicting a person in a different scenario. They were rudimentary black and white drawings. The one that stands out the most was of a man kneeling down at his bed and he appeared to be praying. I can't remember just what the other ones were but I remember this one.

She asked me to glance at each one and then tell her the first thing that came to my mind. After I was done she did what I thought was some point accumulation scoring system or something and she looked at me lovingly, held my hand and softly told me that I was potentially suicidal.

I'm like "What?" Initially I blew it off, but it stuck with me for most of my young adult life. I was mad at her for quite some time for putting that label on my mind. Of course I never told her how much it bothered me because she was such a lovely lady and I didn't want to deter her studies, but my God why would anyone want to put that on someone? Surely she must have gotten a failing grade in her patient sensitivity class. That diagnosis stuck with me for well over a decade. Pretty much like my being stunned by my father's death in the late nineties.

Sometimes people aren't aware of the harm that mere words can do. I've been guilty of that myself. Ripping or saying things off the cuff to individuals for the sake of a mere laugh.

Suicidal is a heavy word to lay on someone. That's a lot to carry around with you. Let me tell you something, I've had four friends that have committed suicide. Two were fresh out of high school.

I'm talking about friends, not some people that I just happen to know. Friends. People that I spent time with. Took pictures with, ate and hung out with. Been over their house and knew their families well. And now they're gone. Snatched away from their friends and loved ones by a evil thought or series of events that permeated their fragile young minds.

I carried that curse around with me for many years until one day I had the strength to discard it. I tossed it over my shoulder and laughed at myself for being so dumb to carry it around with me for all of those years.

But I can't help but to think of how cumbersome it would be for someone who lacked the mental strength to fight off the demons of depression.

Depression can very easily lead to death and I tasted death recently. It was like sticking my tongue into an ashtray full of smoldering cigarette butts. It wasn't pretty. It was downright scary. It chased me through a maze of distorted worlds for five straight weeks, twenty four hours a day, each and every minute it was on my heels and not a second went by that fear wasn't present.

My wife tells me that while I was in that induced coma for two weeks and in and out of consciousness for another three, I was breathing at three times the normal rate. For well over a month! My ribs were showing and I was down to 170 lbs.

I guess that's what an 840K marathon will do to you. But I'm still here, I fought off the Demons of Depression the best that I could, but I know it was the strength of my prayer warriors that helped to pull me back from that dark place. And I thank you all for that.

Onward!

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#56 The D Word Part 2

Depression is a thief. It will rob and steal from you whenever it can. Once that door is left cracked open it will ease into your being and shut you down at will, stealing precious time from you that otherwise could be spent enjoying family time and life in general.

I lost my first marriage to depression. We were both taken by surprise with its stealthy approach. We were held hostage in our separate minds but also in the combined world we existed in to raise our infant daughter.

I will admit I was ignorant at the time of just what depression was. And if these Chronicles are really about opening up to help other people, then let me say this. I never knew that I was depressed. I did know however that someone that I loved deeply was. But I didn't know what to do about it. I was ignorant about its destructive ways. When I finally understood just what depression was, it was too late. It had wreaked havoc and taken a toll on our young marriage.

It wasn't until I was driving home from work one day that I was listening to a radio talk show and there was an expert on depression being interviewed. She described depression as imagining yourself inside of a huge stainless steel bowl and you try to climb out of it but you keep sliding back to the bottom. This was a revelation to me, because now I understood for the very first time how my young distant wife possibly felt.

Although I knew that our marriage was broken and irretrievable, I still pulled over into a gas station parking lot and I called her to apologize for not understanding. She appreciated the call, but it was much too late, but I wanted her to know as a friend that I finally understood her inner struggle.

We had zero support from anyone that knew us to help us work it out. That's one of the casualties of having an ill child. Most friends and family are afraid to remain close for fear of heartbreak if that child doesn't survive. So they choose to keep themselves at a safe distance emotionally.

It wasn't until many months later that I realized that I too had been depressed. Although I had convinced myself that I was depressed for other selfish reasons it was depression nevertheless.

Now some twenty years later, as a result of my accident, I find myself back in the ring with occasional bouts of depression. It never really had a chance to show up prior to coming home from the hospital and rehab because I had so many visitors and constant professional care. But once I got home, back to familiar surroundings, once the kids were off to school and my wife was out and about on errands.... It pounced on me, or rather slowly made its presence known. Much like a dark thick quicksand, heavy, slowly applying its grip to my body, I guess like a snake does to a mouse.

It grabbed hold of me and squeezed till water found its way out of my eyes.

Folks generally don't like to talk about this aspect of their life. Especially men. We're usually too proud to say it. But I will, right here and now......

"I'm depressed."

I hesitate because I don't want another lecture on just how lucky I am to be alive or the God spared you for a purpose sermon.

I really don't want to be disrespectful so I remain quiet as I try to defend myself the best I can against its mighty grip.

But those teary eyes will give you away every time. "What's wrong baby? Are you having a moment?" Or when mom is around "Come on, let's pray for him".

Some folks, and I have been guilty of this myself, some folks like to insist that you just "Snap out of it". They mean no harm when they say things like this that come across as insensitive. It's just that they are living life without this terrible invasion of the mind so it's easy for them to say "Come on, shake it off".

My advice is to stand up for yourself and express it to them the best way you can. Find a confidant, a friend or family member that you can confide in that won't ridicule you and brush you off.

And then deal with it the way that works best for you. Whether it's prayer, rest, crying, counseling or medicine.

I guess the best medicine for me is when my four-year-old Andre observes me sitting in my wheelchair with a blanket on my lap, reminiscent of a vet off in the corner somewhere. He, like my daughter Ashley, is always in tune with me emotionally.

He slowly walks up to me and hugs me and then buries his head into my chest. I'm usually quiet during these moments but every once in awhile I'll say something stupid like "Why did you hug me?" He'll look back over his shoulder as he walks away to play Wii or get a juice pouch and he'll say "Because I love you".

I told you it was a stupid question...

Onward.......

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#57 Theez Nuts

I'm sure by now some of you have heard about the exploits of Hank: Chronicles #2 & #25. They can only be found here on my personal website. But I've never talked about his two little grumpy saggy buddies.

I wasn't too worried about them right after the accident. At least not as much as I was concerned about Hank.

I'm sorry, I know this is going to sound weird, freaky or whatever, but the truth of the matter is .... I have no use for my balls anymore.

Go ahead and laugh. But it's my truth. They've served their purpose, but now they just plain ole get it the way! They're uncomfortable. It hurts when they get bumped, squeezed or hit by accident. I mean it really hurts all the way up into your gut, and believe me, all men over fifty can relate to this.

But what really gets on my nerves is when I use a public restroom and the water level in the toilet is higher than normal. Yes, my nuts get soaked.

And if you have to do a three flusher then you're really in trouble. What? You don't know what a three flusher is? Really? It's when you have a long bowel movement that takes like forever, but since you're in a public restroom you have to flush multiple times so as not to cause a funky situation.

Or it's that the movement is long and drawn out and actually requires three trips down to Alcosan.

Let me tell you, it's not a good feeling when your nuts get soaked. You have to lean back and to the side and pat them dry with toilet paper.

You know what they should have on drivers license? You know how you can elect to be an organ donor. Well maybe they should have a nut option. Like at the bottom of your license it could say "Testicles Donor only". I'd sign up for that.

I could really do without them. I mean not totally, not like Bruce Jenner, but maybe have some type of surgery where they could install some type of twist and release mechanism.

And give you a box like a holding station where you could store them whenever you didn't want to be bothered with having them on.

You know, you could choose when to wear them, like when you're going swimming or wearing shorts during the summer time. But during the cold months you really wouldn't need them hanging around. But check with your woman first. She may demand you keep them on at all times.

You'd hate for her to come home and get in your stuff saying things like "Rasheeda said she saw you at Get Go and you wasn't wearing your nuts! This is so embarrassing!" And I'd be like "I ain't thinking about no Sheeda! They were hurting this morning so I left them on the dresser. You knew that, Baby! Sheeda always in somebody's business, just cause her man gotta always carry his saggy old ass balls around. I ain't thinkin' bout no Sheeda!"

And speaking of woman, I'm sure this is how some extra large breast women must feel. Some elect to have surgery to decrease the size, but that wouldn't be an option for Theeze Nuts.

Naw, I don't think anyone wants smaller or miniature balls. Just get them out of the way altogether.

They're probably the most ugly part of the man's body. Wrinkled, extremely wrinkled, with all sorts of salt and pepper hair growing every which way.

I'm not really sure just when they became a problem. I used to like my nuts. "My Nuts, My Nuts, My Nuts, My Naaa uuts!!!"

They used to have a healthy look to them. They never really got in the way. They were respectable nuts. Very little hair on them, if any.

But now, oh my goodness! Please take these nuts! Is there anyone out there that needs a nut transplant? Mine are available! I wonder, if I listed them on Craigslist would I get any takers?

Maybe somebody who drives a big truck would take me up on the offer and hang them under his rear bumper..... Naw, I really wouldn't want that to happen.

I know you all think I'm trippin' but I'm serious. Theeze Nuts are a pain in the ass, or rather ... near the ass. I think I'm going to read up on them to see just what their current function is. I mean I know all about the sperm sac thing. But after you're done with making babies for good, wouldn't it be nice just to let them retire to like a home of some sort. The Sunny Side Nut Sack Oasis or Golden Nuts Villa or something like that. You could go visit them every Sunday after church. Put them on and walk around a little. Grab them and talk trash to other folks there. "Yeah my Nuts usesta be the s#%^t! Theeze Nuts here? You talkin' bout Theeze Nuts right here!!!"

Then as the sun goes down, you'd spend a little quiet time with them, holding them gently and rocking them to sleep before easing out of the room, leaving the facility, getting back into your car and returning to your nutless life. I can see it all so clearly.

Return home and look at the photo of them on the fireplace mantle. Look, kids, here's a picture of your origins. It's Hank's boys Leon and Freddy, these guys are nuts!

Oh well. Maybe I'll just get them dipped in bronze like they use to do baby shoes. Yeah, that's it! I'll have them dipped in bronze and mounted on a plaque. I'll hang it behind the bar at Falling Rock.

I'll have to call my Mom to get that number. (Calling Mom) "Mom, good morning. Yes it's a beautiful morning. I love you too. Mom, I was wondering ... What's that? Yes, all the time. God is good ... all the time. Mom, I was wondering if you still had the phone number of the place that bronzed all of our baby shoes? Yes, I know it was a long time ago but I figured I'd at least ask. No, not for the boys or Ash, I have no idea where their baby shoes are. Yeah, a lost tradition I guess. Well, what was the name of the place? You don't remember, OK. No problem, I'll just google it. I'm sure there are companies out there still doing it. Huh? What am I getting bronzed? Oh, well you see, I was thinking about.... You know what, Mom, it's really no big deal. Whaa? Okay, well you see, I'm thinking about having this surgery... Oh, nothing's wrong ... I know, I know I've just been through a lot of surgeries but this is something that I've been thinking about since I hit fifty a few years ago. Close, no not that, but I was just thinking about having my testicles removed altogether and dipped in bronze. Thought I'd get them mounted and hung on the wall behind my bar .... What do you think? ....... Ma?...Ma?... Hello Mommy? You still there? .............. Mom?

Well, it was just a thought...

Onwards!

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#58 The Virtual Dog House

We all have them. Little places we tuck away the image of some troubling person in our lives. A way to set their image aside as a reminder to avoid crossing paths or tangling with them again.

A reminder to just plain ole stay away from them so that they cannot cause further emotional, spiritual or financial damage.

I've always had the urge to go to Home Depot and get some wood to build myself a dog house. Not for a pet but to construct a flat dog house that I could hang on my wall. Probably on the space going down to the basement. Company certainly wouldn't see it there.

It would have to be pretty big. I'm thinking at least three feet wide and four feet tall.

I'd then make a handful of dogs in all different shapes, sizes and colors and they would all have these big name tags around their necks.

The tags would need to be big enough to write the names of the folks who were getting on my nerves. Yes, that's what I've been wanting to do for like forever. At first I thought it would be cute. I'd actually thought about leaving it hanging on the wall upstairs near the front door so that when people came in they would have a chance to see if they were on my bad side or not. Give them the opportunity to get out of the dog house with a simple heart-felt apology. Also so that my family could see it and know to give folks the look or the silent treatment when and if they came in.

One thing that is for certain, I have a lot of haters. That's a given. As a matter of fact that's a whole nother Chronicle.

There used to be a time when I didn't have haters, or at least I didn't know that I did. It's usually the haters that wind up in the dog house. I should also note that I've damaged several potential great friendships because of my inability to properly handle apparent haters.

See, I've always considered myself to be fortunate. I grew up in a loving household with two great parents and had tons of fun growing up with my older and one of my younger brothers.

I was grown and basically out of the house when the rest of my siblings came along.

I've made good decisions when it came to smoking, drugs and alcohol. I stayed as far away as possible. I was surrounded by a great group of friends all of my life. So when someone acts out or shows their ass I'd give them another chance. Hell, I give them multiple chances. And more times than not they mess up again. See this is what has pissed off several of my friends. They think that something certainly must be wrong with me for letting a potential asshole stick around.

Hey, my dad was this way, he helped plenty of people, and I loved my dad. He was a great role model and a great man. Once he had a tenant who had a low-paying job and could never afford to pay his rent on time. So my dad made some phone calls and got him a better-paying job. Like three times as much as he was making before. Once the man started making better money, he moved out of my father's rental property without even notifying him. Aaaand he had an unpaid balance. That's what some people do. When my dad died in 1998 plenty of people were off the hook for money he loaned them. I'm talking about thousands of dollars. Enough to put all of my children through college. I see these folks on a weekly basis. They smile and say nice things about my father. Somehow it feels like a paid advertisement. Like when they're done talking to me I hear my dad's voice come behind them like in a campaign ad saying "That nice compliment was paid for by Carl R. Southers". At my father's funeral I spoke about how some people took his kindness for a weakness. Those folks absolutely should go into the dog house.

The dog house I was going to build would have three floors, a basement, and a back yard. It would also have room for expansion. Like a below the surface of the basement cavity and a dug out section underneath the back yard. Those would be the cold-case Jimmy Hoffa areas. Areas where you could bury folks from your memory.

Most folks know that I worked in the steel mill for eighteen and a half years. It was great money, but it was a lot of work and a lot of time away from my family. During those mill years I endured tons of workplace racism. Now don't get me wrong, there were plenty of great co-workers there of all colors, actually only two. Black and white. But plenty of ethnic backgrounds. Polish, Irish, Italians, mixed ethnics, Homewoodians and Hill Districtians. The racism that existed was more subtle than malicious.

What affected me the most was how the good ole boys fixed it to deny me my overtime. And I'm talking about the ability to make an extra $20,000 a year over a seven-year span. I won't go into all of the details, that too is another Chronicle.

But to tie this in to this story, there was a point when I had enough of it, so I went to seek advice from a lawyer. My lawyer instructed me to get a notebook and compile all of the racist things that happened to me big and small. So I did.

I had a small pocket-size notebook that I would carry around with me to write my experiences in, and when I got home I'd transfer them to my large notebook.

I even went back and wrote about my early experiences. It all started with learning how to operate the overhead crane. When I first started at the mill they had me doing laborer work, which was fine because up until this point this was the most money I had ever made in my life. But shortly thereafter I realized that there were people making much more than me doing less physical work. It was more mental, if anything. Like running the overhead cranes. These were the lifting devices throughout the entire mill than ran the length of the mill on different tracks. These cranes moved the large and small steel coils around in different bays. I asked my foreman one day, could I train on the crane? He gave me a look but eventually I was permitted to train. Well, the person that was supposed to train me was an older thin white man in his sixties. The entire time he was supposed to train me he sat on the outer stairs of the crane and read the newspaper and ate his lunch. Not once did he explain anything to me about the crane or its operation. So I taught myself. Sure there were bumps here and there but I quickly taught myself how to operate it properly.

When I say I experienced something racist just about every day it's the truth. In the short seven months that I compiled incidents of racism in my book for my attorney, I grew more and more withdrawn from enjoying life. I got tired of transferring my disappointing stories to the larger book, so one day I brought it to work. Besides, I didn't want that vile book of evil at my home.

I felt like when I was away at work I left my family exposed to that book of negativity. I placed it in my locker but I eventually carried it around with me. Word got out that I was "taking notes". Some made fun of it, but most kept quiet and to themselves, rarely interacting with me.

I got so tired of carrying that book around with me. It was filled with hateful incidents that were kept alive on those pages. I finally figured that I was doing nothing more than keeping them alive so one day I heaved it into a dumpster full of muck and oil waste. It quickly disappeared below its thick black surface.

I immediately felt relieved. I had contemplated putting it into one of the many furnaces that reheated the steel slabs, but that was both dangerous and could possibly affect the product.

I had also thought about giving it to my attorney but I didn't want to relive all of those negative moments in a court or anywhere. Besides, with my new job as a truck driver I was able to isolate myself more. I had full run of the place. I could drive to anywhere in the mill and write or just chill once my work was done or until they called for me.

I had to bid all of that negativity farewell, and I shifted my focus towards the positive, laughing in the face of any potential hateful or racist situations.

I couldn't build a dog house big enough to house all of the workplace haters, so I choose to build a virtual dog house that only existed in my mind, and it was huge! I also chose to further distance myself through my writing. My isolation enabled me to tune deeper into my imagination, leaving this problematic environment tuned out. And eventually I gathered the mental strength and support from my wife to walk away, or rather drive away, from that job of negativity. Leaving behind an $80,000 a year job for the peaceful loving world of the arts.

As far as the haters in my beloved theatre world, I only ran into them occasionally, but our shared passion for theatre diluted things long enough for us to work on a specific project.

There was a great expanse of time that existed in my life where I honestly didn't know that haters even existed in my world, until one day a local actor told me after we worked together for the first time, "Maaaan I used to hate on me some Mark Clayton Southers! Your name and picture is always in the paper."

I'll never forget that. That statement alone opened up a whole Pandora's box of wonder for me. I thought to myself "Why would anybody want to hate on me?" As much as I wanted to not believe it and discard those feelings, it stuck with me. It made me think about my relationships with other people in the business.

After my auto accident on May 11th, 2015, I was unconscious for five weeks, two in an induced coma. When I came out of that dark place where I was surrounded by nothing but pure evil, I sought to strip myself of all of my negative relationships. I felt that the reason why my unconscious world was full of such hateful people was because the demons finally had their chance at me and that God was testing my strength. And believe me when I say I was fighting them off at every turn, and let my wife tell it, who was in the real world, my stats kept track of my inner fight. She tells me that I was breathing at three times my normal rate for a solid month! My blood pressure was through the roof and my heart rate was abnormal. I fought off those demons for over a month and eventually made my way back to the real world.

Once I gained my senses back I immediately chose to give notice to the tenants of my virtual dog house that I was tearing it down and that they were free to either be a friend or stay in a negative state of relations with me, but only from their side. Yes, I was wiping the slate clean. I hired several of these folks for a production as a show of faith. Others received a phone call where I expressed to them that I loved them and respected their work, and whether they believed it or not it was sincere.

I felt good about acting on my epiphany.

(e·piph·a·ny - A sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.)

My wife looked at me sideways when I opened that gate, but she remained quiet about my attempt to smooth the waters. After all, she does support my mental and physical well being. More times than not, when someone takes advantage of you or just plain ole does and says nasty things to and about you, it does have an effect on your family. Because you take that funk home with you by letting it get into your being.

So I do appreciate my wife's concern, but I still must wipe the slate clean even if it means releasing potential demons back into our world. But this time my follow-up decisions will be stronger and swifter.

I tore down my virtual dog house and reached out. I did my part. But I was quickly reminded recently that some folks just don't change. They rarely do.

I pardoned this one person and after several weeks of trying to rebuild our friendship, they were consumed with the same hate they had for me and things quickly deteriorated. It was sad but I had to just deal with it and keep it moving.

Like my father, I help people when I can. I also never ask anyone to do something for me that I wouldn't do for them. Dr. Vernell A. Lillie once said to me, "I give because I have the ability to give". That always stuck with me. "I give because I have the ability to give". That's special. That's a Keeper.

Let's face it. We all have our own virtual dog houses, and there's nothing wrong with that. It helps us keep things in check. I'm on the fence as to whether I should build another one in my mind or not. I'm actually thinking that perhaps I should just build a virtual grave yard and be done with all of the negative people in my world. It's easy to say that; however, knowing me, I'll be building a spacious playground.

Onward!

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#59 The Greatest Show on Earth

I never expected to be sitting in the handicapped area. It's just not something you think about. We go through our daily lives from one point to another. Getting up in the morning, showering, eating breakfast, driving to work, eating lunch, driving home, eating dinner. It's a constant grind just to exist from day to day.

Day in and day out we go through life barely thinking at all of being disabled and what that situation might feel like, how it would drastically change your daily routine.

We see disabled folks and we quietly think to ourselves, "Thank God I'm healthy".

It was a last minute decision to take the kids to the circus. It was a Saturday and my rehearsal was over at 5pm. So when my daughter texted me asking did I want to take the boys to the circus at 7pm it was a no-brainer. My wife was returning from a trip and it worked out great for her also.

I had seen the commercials over the last few days and I also heard on the news that this could be the last go-round for the Asian elephants. I think they're banned from performing in circuses from here on out. Something about them and their trainers getting caught smoking marijuana backstage. Just kidding. Just seeing if you were paying attention. Anywho, apparently it has been determined that it just might be the last time to see the big boys from Asia.

Members of the public have voiced concerns about how elephants and other animals are treated in circus acts.

The actual deadline agreed upon is 2018 but I didn't want to take a chance. There have been grumblings about the date being moved forward, so I wanted the kids to get a chance to see them. I wanted to see them also, plus they have a brother as the ringmaster, I certainly didn't want to miss that.

So rehearsal is nearing its end and I get a text from my wife saying, "I'm at the Consol Center ticket booth. So, am I getting five seats in the handicapped area?" It was a little unnerving to read that text, but it's my current reality.

I slowly typed back "Yes".

I asked one of the cast members to drop me off. My daughter met me at the curb with my wheelchair and brought me in through a private entrance. I felt special momentarily like a celebrity being snuck into the back door to avoid the paparazzi. We made our way to the elevator and up to the next level. I was wheeled thru several roped off sections until I was finally reunited with the general public.

I must admit it was shocking to be wheeled around looking up at everyone. No one looks at you for more than a second or two. It's like you're no longer a part of the walking world. My children took great pride in helping me, even amongst all of the bright glowing and blinking circus paraphernalia.

The folks that do have to interact with you are very kind. The employees. They looked down at me and spoke slowly like I was five years old.

We were directed to a special entrance for wheelchairs. It was a concrete ramp that had several turns. Ashley negotiated them well. I did hold on to the big hard rubber wheels to provide additional braking. You know, just in case. I didn't want to be part of the show. Like "Behold from above, the flying wheelchaired Southers! One show only folks, one show only...."

It was a series of mazes to get to our section, with some passageways at the bare minimum to pass the wheelchair requirement. I kept my hands on my lap during passage through those areas.

When we finally arrived at our very own private box section I was surprised at how good the view was. Once we settled in I sat back and enjoyed watching the glow of the lights bounce off the wide eyed wonderment of my children's faces.

My energizer bunny of a wife bought enough popcorn to feed a small nation and of course plastic lighted swords and other toys stamped made in China. And then there were the hot dogs, chicken tenders and fries. I could smell the burnt plastic of my credit card and see the glimpse of smoke emanating from her purse. Much like the white smoke that announces a new pope at the Vatican, but this smoke here was black and announced the demise of my PNC card.

But I'm smarter now since the accident. I kept my mouth shut. Besides who wants to go outside with one sock and shoe on.

This circus wasn't that same ole crusty bigger than life circus that I once knew.

But it was spectacular. It was a fine tuned package. Neat and compartmental. A lot of nations were represented. Hell if Trump were elected president the show would have been over in fifteen minutes.

I really enjoyed the ringmaster's sidekick. He was this midget clown who was part of just about every act. I mean, he did it all, except for sticking half his body inside the lion's mouth.

This little dude climbed, jumped, tumbled and rolled into everyone's hearts and smiled the whole time.

The brother who was the Ringmaster reminded me of the proper brother in the movie Glory.

Andre Braugher. His voice was crisp and his words were precise. He commanded everyone's attention whenever he entered.

The lion tamer "The Great Alexander" did his routine without incident.

There was this one lioness that wasn't feeling it at all. She did everything short of taking a nip at him.

I'm not sure how you fall into that profession. I mean when do you decide "Hey, I think I want to whip the big tigers around inside of a cage". Hey, If you're wondering why I didn't mention the ringmaster's name, it's because they didn't either. Although they may have said it while I was making my way through the maze to my seat, or rather my section. But they certainly didn't put it up in big letters like they did the lion tamer's. Or maybe they did and I missed that too. Hey, maybe I'm Black Panther trippin'. If so I'll just use one of my three hundred or so reparation credit points I have left.

When it came time to leave, I elected to walk up the double hand railed steps that were directly behind our section. An usher assisted my wife in carrying my wheelchair up the twenty or so steps.

Once there we retraced our path and exited to our car, which my wife had conveniently parked in a handicapped space right outside, just a few yards away from the entrance. Yes, there are courtesies afforded for us low riders that are really helpful and this was certainly one of them. We loaded up and headed home.

We were probably in our Hill District home "Falling Rock" well before some folks even got out of the parking lot.

It was a great family outing and another ongoing lesson for me to appreciate all that life has to offer.

Onward!

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#60 The Dark Chronicles

This is the first in a series of nine Dark Chronicles. I've put off writing these so as not to awaken the demons in my mind. I've reserved all of the 60s of my chronicles to cover those dark times that I experienced while unconscious immediately after my auto accident. They are a very important component of my quest to write ninety-nine chronicles detailing the aftermath of my crash and my survival on a daily basis.

I've been reluctant to approach these stories; however, I've been building myself up, both mentality and physically and most importantly spiritually, to take on this challenge. It's no easy task confronting the darkness; however I will slowly and efficiently attempt to work my way through these stories that once consumed my fragile mind.

I shall begin by telling you that in my unconsciousness for nearly five solid weeks I was mentally thrust into another dimension in time and space, a netherworld if you will. A dark place where everything was distorted but vividly clear and precise. It was a real world to me because I had to fight on a daily basis to stay alive. Not only in this dark world, but as I have learned, also in the real.

Speaking with my wife, she tells me that during the time I was unconscious my vitals were off the charts. She says that at one point she received a call to come down to the hospital right away. My mother was already there by my side praying for me and my wife was at home tending to our two young sons. She immediately texted my mother back "Fear not"; she then went on to text her circle of friends "Pray now!" She tells me that when she arrived the doctors explained that they couldn't make sense of how I was breathing at three times the normal rate for well over thirty days. My kidneys were failing and my heart rate was through the roof!

All of this makes sense because back in my world I was scared! I was running for my life like an escaped convict 24/7.

You see, I was apprehended by two individuals who played a major part in my captivity during these dark days. I should let you know the effect that this ordeal has had on me, although diminished over time, still seems somewhat real. For weeks, even months after regaining consciousness, I still believed that they were real people that somehow followed me from this distorted world of grief into the present day.

My earliest recollection of this nightmare started with the crash. It was my crash, but a distorted view of it. In my world it happened on the Highland Park bridge. That's why during early hospital visits I told my friends that that's where I crashed. Also buried deep in my subconscious was a memory of a young African-American brother who was killed in an auto accident on that very same bridge many years ago. I'm quite sure that the memory of his and my current situation combined played a major part in my thinking. Plus the fact that my wife and I had just crossed it and that's where I believe my coughing fit began.

I remember being pulled from the wreckage but not being taken to the hospital. I was instead transported to a large warehouse. I tell you this was so real to me that when I finally regained consciousness I sent for my attorney. She came to my hospital room and I desperately pleaded with her to research the ambulance records and find out where I was taken initially. I'm quite sure I seemed like a maniac at the time. But in my delusional mind I was 100 percent right.

So my recollection was that I was pulled from my vehicle, placed on a stretcher, put into an ambulance and taken to a warehouse. Once there I was placed into a simulator of some sort. My body was in severe pain and I remember being restrained and attached to the wall so that I couldn't move. I was in some sort of room that shifted in different directions. Much like a ride at Disneyland minus the pleasantries.

I was forced to watch three different scenes where situations were played out. I can't recall the first two scenes at this time, but the final scene, the one that was memorable, was of a little girl that needed help. It was a little white girl and she was facing some sort of impending doom. And as I watched, the restraints that were holding me back suddenly unlocked releasing me.

My body collapsed into a chair. Then the door popped open so that if I chose to I could go help this girl. But I couldn't move. My injuries were too substantial, I couldn't move an inch. Then the lights changed as if the show were over.

I heard people murmuring. Then I saw a white woman emerge. She was a professional looking lady in her mid to late thirties. She was a brunette with a medium build. She spoke briefly to a small group of mostly black folks who had assembled to watch this show of sorts. As they exited they passed by the trailer. Some looked in at me with disdain. Some merely walked by with their heads down. Most had folded white napkins and small white styrofoam cups. Some nibbled on cookies as they made their way past my open window and door. There was this one black woman in her early sixties who spoke with this white woman at length.

They gently shook hands and she exited. The door to the trailer closed and the lights outside of the window went dark and then bright fluorescent lights came on in the room that I was in. My restraints were once again attached to my body. I could now see that they were metal airline cables. They snatched me back up and held me firmly to a white wall. And then I heard her voice, it was much more clearer and distinct now. It came over an overhead speaker.

"Mark, why didn't you help the girl?"

I merely just shook my head no. "Why didn't you help her?" she said in a much stronger tone. I was in such a confused state that I struggled to communicate. I felt like I had been hit by a locomotive train. In my mind I'm like "Help the girl? I can barely move! I'm fucked up!"

I was writhing in pain and couldn't speak. I heard her voice again, but this time talking to her colleagues, her small group of behind-the-scenes crew. It sounded as if they had forgotten to turn the mic off. It appeared that they were discussing their next move. They stopped talking and moments later the room slowly started to spin. There was much movement. I believe I blacked out during this time, however when things finally stopped moving I found myself in an awkward angle like the room was on a severe slant. My body was tilted downward and I was in a completely different room. A much smaller, more confined room. I could see people milling about through different openings in the walls around me. I saw glimpses of several friends. They were theatre couples. Pittsburgh theatre couples. I attempted to cry out to them but only moans emerged.

A man quickly entered the room and aggressively wrapped duct tape around my head covering my mouth. He was a medium-sized man, thin but in excellent shape. He wrapped the tape around my head and mouth in a quick jerking motion. He then moved into a smaller room adjacent to mine where he could monitor me.

There was now minimal light in the room and I could see that the metal cable wire that was restraining me now ran through my wrists and my ankles. And whenever I attempted to communicate, that same man that taped my mouth shut would viciously yank the cables, causing me much pain. So I sat there silently listening to everything around me. Trying to figure out just what the hell was going on.

To be continued... Onward!

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#61 The Revolving Rooms

Part 2 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

The evil woman assembled all of the husband & wife theatre teams in the City. This was done under the guise of a massive collaboration grant. Everyone was to meet at a remote location. It was the warehouse where I was being held hostage. When they arrived with my wife I was hid in a small crooked room and gagged. I distinctly remember my wife being totally against the idea of this traveling collaboration to the state of Indiana, saying that we have conflicting dates with our FENCES production.

As they walked her across what seemed to be a dirt floor they attempted to assure her that they would provide people to assist with the production and they also offered to assist with childcare to free her up for the six week venture.

She adamantly declined and insisted on seeing me. I panicked fearing for the worse in that they would take her against her will as well. I knew that if I made any sound or movement whatsoever that the man in the room next to me would cause me great pain by jerking back on the airline cables which ran through my wrists and ankles and held me firmly in place.

I frantically searched the room with wide eyes. I saw no signs of hope. And just as I began to let defeat settle into my mind, I noticed something out of the corner of my right eye. It was just inside the doorway, nearer where this evil man was sitting. It was what I had seen earlier, but now more distinct. It was a lever of some sort.

I didn't know what it was for, however it stood out in my mind as a strong possible source of escape.

I could only see his shadow which made minuscule moves. Then suddenly he was summoned, no doubt to assist in tying up my wife, I assumed.

His shadow disappeared and my restraints loosened up greatly. I sat there momentarily and imagined just how many steps he would need to take to reach the evil woman that called him.

Once I felt that he was a safe distance away I slowly let my body collapse to the floor which brought me great pain.

I winced and moaned but my sounds were deafened by the layers of duct tape that had been wrapped around my head and mouth. I slowly inched my way towards the door opening. The entire room was severely slanted; this worked to my advantage and my body weight assisted in my getting there much faster. Once in the doorway I had a much better view into the open area of the warehouse. I could see the small group of folks huddled up discussing their wicked plan with their leader, the evil woman. My wife was nowhere in sight, however I imagined that she was close and being held against her will.

The lever that I had seen was just out of my reach. I studied it and tried to figure out just what its purpose was. I noticed that the room that it was in was some sort of a command center. There were all sorts of dials and unlit lights. From what I could see, the lever was key to this whole operation. I studied things once more and then I inched closer to the lever until it was finally in my grasp. I attempted to pull it back but the pain from my injuries proved to be too much to overcome. I tried again but this time a painful moan escaped me. The evil man looked back over his shoulder in my direction. I froze in the shadows as he surveyed the room from afar.

The evil woman motioned for him to check things out. He had a brief conversation with her but then turned and walked briskly towards me. Without hesitation I lurched for the lever grabbing it and putting my full weight behind it. It clicked downwards a bit and then released and snapped back towards me. The entire room and what part of the warehouse I had seen started to rotate awkwardly.

Everyone was propelled into some sort of rotating frenzy where everything started spinning inside this big mobile contraption that they built for this theatrical experience. I saw my wife being quickly escorted out. The Evil woman Doctor and her sidekicks' peculiar experiment had begun.

The spinning grew faster and faster; I closed my eyes and counted to myself repeatedly well into the hundreds. Visions of my family and things familiar danced inside my head.

The only sound I could hear was the spinning of the room. It sounded much like large stone wheels rolling on concrete. The heavy granular spinning caused me to move towards an out-of-body experience. I can't quite recall just what what happened during this lucid time but I do know that I experienced no pain. Then suddenly the turning came to a grinding halt, much like a car needing its rotors replaced.

I slowly opened my eyes and found myself in a hotel suite. The room was immaculate. It was decorated smartly in reds and blacks. There was one individual there with me at all times.

I realized that I was more in charge than they thought I could be. I was surprised that I was free, but wondered where I was. This person was much like a servant or a butler of sorts. There was a knock at the door. The butler went to it and opened it. I used to have all of this in my memory but it now escapes. I do remember that I had four separate visitors. It was if they were auditioning for something. They each displayed for me their skills and exited. Each time one was finished the room would rotate and the next one would be let in by the butler.

Finally after everyone had left, the room began to spin once more, this time at a dizzying pace that left me weak. When It finally stopped I found myself strapped to a chair in a smoke-filled room amongst criminals in suits. They milled about muttering criminal-like thoughts. They were mafia-like.

To be continued ...

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#62 The Underground

Part 3 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

My arms were strapped with black Velcro to an office-type chair on wheels. The dark room was filled with cigar smoke and much activity. I could see that there were people in other rooms watching various sporting events on televisions.

There was a large table in the center of the room. Several men paced around the room, two of whom were on their mobile phones. The one that seemed to be in charge was not. He glanced at me occasionally as well as his watch.

One of the men finished his phone conversation. As soon as he did the man in charge asked him "What did he say?" The tall man replied "He just came in. He's on his way down."

The man in charge seemed pleased. He made his way over to me. He motioned to the tall man who was on the phone and together they pushed my chair towards the table. Once there he spun me around and spoke to me for the first time. "Are you right-handed or a lefty?"

I said nothing, but I wiggled my right hand which he noticed. His tall henchman quickly removed the Velcro strap that held my right forearm, he then spun me back around towards the table. The man in charge pushed several sheets of paper in front of me. He put his left hand on my right shoulder and leaned in towards me. He spoke again. "There's a guy coming in here with some papers. You're gonna sign them, and you're going to sign these as well".

I had no clue of where I was or what was going on. I said nothing, I only observed. I heard a door open behind me. There was light conversation and then a young Hispanic man dressed rather well walked into the light. He briefly looked at me and then the other mafia-type man placed a stack of papers in front of me. He handed me a pen and said "Start signing".

I didn't move a muscle. I was clueless to what was going on and I acted that way. The mafia-type man sat on the table and leaned down with his face inches from mine. "Listen, you've been through a lot. I don't want things to get any worse for you. You sign these papers and you'll go home soon." He then got up and motioned for everybody to leave the room. I sat there confused about just what was going on. I waited a few more moments and then out of curiosity I picked up a paper from the top stack.

I slowly read what I made out to be a loan application. A foreign loan application. The majority of them were in Spanish. I looked through the balance of the papers and they too were the same. Each from different banks in different third world countries. My immediate thought was that I'm not signing these. But then I quickly remembered my predicament. So I picked up the dark-colored pen and I began to sign my name. My handwriting looked foreign to me as it emerged thru the ink. I stopped momentarily to observe it. It was terrible and appalling. Almost laughable.

But I thought to myself perhaps this was good. Maybe I wouldn't be held accountable for a signature that didn't appear to be mine. But deep inside I wanted to do better. If only to try to find my true self, even if it was only through my writing.

I started again picking back up somewhere in the midst of where I left off. It was what I thought was my middle name. Perhaps I repeated a few letters, who knows. This time I wrote with an attempt to write clearer, much clearer. But it was to no avail, it was the sloppiest it's been since grade school.

As soon as I reached the very end of writing my last name the door to my left opened with a mighty force and the stout mafia man barged in followed by his two henchmen. He went straight for the paper that I had just signed. He picked it up and studied it briefly. The henchmen moved me far away from the table and reattached the Velcro to my right arm, once again fastening me to the chair. The Hispanic man coolly entered and sat on a small black couch across from me. The mafia man spread all of the papers out across the table and then looked towards the room where they has just entered from.

He nodded and an elderly frail man with a tan sauntered in. He reminded me of an Albert Einstein who had been fortunate enough to have received daily doses of the sun. He sat down and immediately went to work.

He picked up the paper I had just signed; he studied it briefly. The mafia man handed him the same black ink pen that I used, and in a rapid-fire effort this old man signed each document, one by one forging my name. There must have easily been a total of twelve or more.

Once that was complete, he disappeared out of the same door, just as quickly as he had appeared. The tall mafia man gathered up the papers as the stout mafia man sat on the table and lit his cigar. "You did good, kid". I guess he was talking to me. He never looked up as the tall guy put all of the papers into a folder and handed it to Hispanic man who had risen up off of the couch at this point. The mafia man pulled a huge wad of cash from his pant pocket. He riffled through it and handed it to the tall man who then in turn handed the money to the Hispanic man, what appeared to be well over a thousand dollars.

The young Hispanic man left the room with the falsified papers. The mafia-type man approached me once more.

"You did good kid. You thirsty?" I slowly nodded my head yes. I actually was beyond thirsty. It was like I hadn't drunk or eaten anything for days. "Take him downstairs and get him a drink," he told the other not-so-tall man.

I don't remember how we got downstairs but we ended up at a really nice bar. It was dark but it was a really expensive place. There were other people down there but I couldn't make out their faces. There was a slight thud from the music that played as people milled about. The man escorted me to the well-stocked bar and sat me down. He said nothing and then he turned and disappeared into the dark room.

Apparently the first drink was on them. I asked the bartender for a Bacardi and coke with a lime on the rocks. Sorry, even in my dreams I wasn't a savvy drink orderer. I've always been a basic Rum and Coke drinker. I'm not ashamed of it. Hell, I can go months without a drink. Even a year or two. I actually usually only have a drink when I'm involved in a toast. More times than not at a cast party, and it's usually champagne. I drank that drink quickly and ordered another. When the bartender came my way again, she placed my drink in front of me and said "Thirty-seven". So for the first time I knew that I was in the future, or else at a really fancy underground establishment.

Without reaching I quickly remembered that I had no wallet. Before I could tell her this she instructed me to place my right thumb anywhere on the glass bar and press down and hold it. I was lost. I'm like "Say what?" "Here" she said as she grabbed me by my right wrist. Like many times before I guess, with other clueless or inebriated patrons, she maneuvered my right hand into position and held my right thumb firmly down onto the cool dark glass. After a few seconds it slowly lit up with a warm amber glow. An image of a small bill of some sort appeared, complete with my total. My thumb print was recognized and at once an image of it moved away from my actual thumb like on a virtual assembly line. She released her grip freeing my hand. I watched in amusement as my electronic thumb print made its way through several stages until the transaction was completed.

"Your bank will have an electronic receipt on file". She then moved on to tend to another customer. As I sat there and sipped on my cool drink I couldn't help but to wonder just what had happened that propelled me into this dark underground world. But for the time being I was able to chill, unshackled and away from the villains, enjoying a moment of relaxation.

To be continued ...

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#63 The Experiment Continues

Part 4 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

So I'm at this bar, right, and I'm feeling no pain. I'm drinking for the first time in a long time and it really doesn't matter just what it is, just drinking period feels refreshing. But now I have to go to the bathroom but I can't get up from this bar! The urine feels like it's burning to get out. I hold it the best that I can but it tears through; I cannot contain it. I'm embarrassed that this is happening but people come and go and no one seems to notice. Finally I'm fully relieved but I don't feel wet. I pass out completely this time without the room spinning.

I'm not sure just how long I was out but I wake up in the middle of a golf pro shop in downtown Pittsburgh. It's near Heinz Hall and it's complete with a driving range. I'm near a wall with green indoor grass and there are people that work there all around me. It's like I barged into their world without paying and they can't make sense of it. But then suddenly a man shows up as if he's going to take me away from there. Or rather lead me away, like he's my handler. He speaks to them in a reassuring voice that he will take care of getting me out of there. He then talks to me as if I'm a confused escaped mental patient. But he won't touch me, he only leads me verbally. The lights blink on and off. All of the lights. All of this is quick and then there is total blackness.

After many hours in darkness I hear the sound of a power saw. It gradually wakes me up in a stupor. The lights blink on and from my vantage point it appears that I'm inside of a hardware store. This time I'm trying out some power tools. It wasn't a big-box store like Home Depot. It was a mom and pops store, and the salesperson is speaking to me in a soft tone. I see two friends standing back observing from the perimeter, one of whom was Lonzo Green. I can't recall right now who the other one was. I'm thinking it was Mike Ziegler from Stanton Heights but I'm not really sure.

That same handler appears and demands that I turn the tool off.

But I can't. He won't let the store salesperson or Mr. Green turn it off for me. I try really hard but I can't move my arm or hand towards it. I try again and again but it continues to run. My friends look down and away. The lights blink on and off and on and off and on and then off for good.

It's like I escaped but they keep catching me. Like I wandered out of an asylum, but they're not allowed to touch me, just suggest that I go back.

There were more situations but they escape me at the moment. You would think that I would be disappointed that I can't remember everything, but I'm not. I have no problem with forgetting any of this. As a matter of fact I live for the day that I can forget it all.

I woke up in the darkness. My body began to glow. As the light grew somewhat brighter I could look down and see my body. I had on a mustard colored jumpsuit. It had many zippers. Zippers were everywhere. It was zipper overkill, however, they all gained access to different parts of my body. I remember my left leg being inside some kind of box. It was as if my leg had its very own coffin. A simple wooden coffin like back in the westerns. It was a simple box with weathered wood.

My leg was the only part of me that was exposed. It had a block of some sort holding it in place. It seemed like I couldn't move it at all. Someone stood over me and talked. I couldn't understand what they were saying. They were doing minor things to my body. I then blacked out again.

I kept waking up, in and out, looking down at my body. I felt like a rogue dreamer. I wouldn't wish this sense of helplessness on anyone.

I can't quite recall exactly the path of this nightmarish ordeal. However, several other situations happened that I will also report on. One of which, where I was part of this underground acting community. It was a group of people that were part of a huge soap opera of some sort on the underground Wave.

We were all in hospital beds hooked up to computers and in our subconscious we acted out parts that were fed to our minds. Our paychecks went into an account and our families received a portion of it on a monthly basis. It was like we were avatars.

Also at one point I was leased out to an older African-American woman who kept me, along with several other patients, strapped to hospital beds in her basement. She had a small yellow brick house in a well-populated neighborhood. But for some reason no one knew we were there. We were all spread out throughout her basement hooked up to machines and computers. We were suppose to be in a comatose state; however I managed to stay conscious and peek out of my half-shut eyes and witness what was going on. I did this while appearing to be in a daze. She would sublease us to different sites where we would operate industrial machinery. I mean, really big contraptions in other cities, maybe even other countries or worlds. Much like I did as a former steelworker, but this time from the confinement of a bed.

I was once caught being awake by one of her assistants and they started me on a regimen of pills. I acted as though they made me sleepy, but I always spat them out to my side and rocked to my right so that they would slip down under me.

This virtual experience didn't last too long and again I returned to the darkness. In it I found myself on the phone with someone and I heard a shotgun blast! I then heard a female voice in the background screaming out "I'm claiming this apartment". I didn't know what to think. I didn't know who I was talking to on the phone. But I tried to calm everyone down. I shouted repeatedly into the phone "That's okay! That's okay! Let them stay!" I thought that someone needed a place to stay and that they were so desperate that this was their only way. So I asked my nephew — I guess this is who I was talking to on the phone — I asked him to ask my wife to let them stay. That they could trade Coca-Cola or grape or even root beer pop in exchange for rent. Yes, I guess I was really that thirsty.

I knew that my wife would be totally against it but that's what I was suggesting. See, she's more about the business and tries to prevent people from getting over on me. But then she doesn't really know about the relationships I have with artists and people that I grew up with in the community. My father was the same way. That's one thing that I learned from both him and Dr. Vernell A. Lillie.

A lesson of compassion. My dad always helped people. Yes, sometimes people took advantage of his kindness and mistakenly took it for weakness. See, that's what my wife is trying to prevent. She's trying to keep those type of people at bay. Dr. Lillie once said to me, "I give because I have the capacity to give". I thought that that was so powerful. To me it's an affirmation on ones' worth in the sense that we are part of a community and we must help each other in this tough world. Yes, some folks will take advantage of your kindness, but it should not deter you from extending an olive branch to those in need. I'm so glad that this part of me survived even in my subconscious.

I'm not sure what the outcome of that whole shotgun thing was. At that time it was real to me, and I actually pondered asking my nephew about it for many weeks until my mind finally settled in a sane place and I realized that that moment had come from a narcotic-induced state of mind. This was true of the majority of my thoughts and situations, however, at the time they seemed one-hundred-percent real to me. Was all of this coming from this immersive theatre experience that my wife and I participated in several years prior? Could it be that the effects from that encounter have lingered in my mind for so long?

To be continued...

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#64 The Calm Before the Storm

Part 5 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

A lot of this stuff I've been afraid to write about. Some of it has been forgotten, but only because it was so terrifying that I had to stay up day in and day out, praying on it to purge it from my mind. Usually once I write things down that are bothering me, I can just walk away from them altogether leaving whatever it was that was haunting me to exist on paper only.

So it's not strange that some nine months after regaining consciousness after my accident that I'm attempting to recount the horrible twenty-four hour, seven days a week night and daymares that invaded my mind for five solid weeks. Some images and situations have been forgotten, while others are fixated into my subconscious arriving for display at various points of my most recent life. I've manage to tiptoe through these first few chronicles with minor scraps with the darkness but now things will definitely take on a much more sinister turn as I attempt to piece together the balance of my story the best that I can.

I woke up inside of a small glass room. I was laying in what appeared to be a custom made futuristic or just a really rich but thin leather recliner. It had built in sensors that relayed my body information to a large opaque glass panel-like dashboard that was in front of me. I could see the outline of my body in an amber color. The whole thing was much like a futuristic desk.

For once everything was quiet and calm. There was a soothing familiar music that had been playing, I'm guessing, in the background the entire time of my ordeal. It took on a vibe of a surreal-like elevator music, but it was only now that I could fully hear it.

I laid there motionless for several moments before I heard their voices.

It seemed like they came from a nearby observation room. Their conversation gave me the impression that their experiment had failed miserably and that they weren't real happy about the outcome. They were going back and forth about different situations that had occurred. Their language was peppered with scientific terms, medications that were dispensed and procedures that were performed on me. I strained to hear as much as I could and make some sense out of their banter but I couldn't. Their voices trailed off as my strength began to fade.

I could now sense that I was absolutely the weakest that I had ever been. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.

I couldn't move at all. Even my head. I'm quite sure things were a mixture of this twisted world and of the real. So once again my bodily pain had pushed through into this virtual world. I was probably actually in my hospital bed and the voices could have easily been my family members, hospital staff or both.

As I laid there motionless I silently prayed, asking that I be allowed to see my family once more. Suddenly the voices became clearer. It seemed to be no less than four people, possibly six all talking amongst themselves. The evil woman doctor's voice was dominant. "So what should we do with him?" she asked just above a whisper. The second voice, a man said something along the lines of "He's too weak to ...." I couldn't understand anything else that they were saying after that. Then after a long silence whatever was holding me to the chair unhooked, releasing my body. Then I heard her voice again, this time much clearer and slightly louder. "You are free to go." But I couldn't move. I tried to sit up but my body wouldn't respond to my inner commands. I laid there in the chair helpless. I thought that they would eventually come and get me and take me up to the street level and leave me there to be discovered.

But I was wrong. "Get up and get out!" she commanded in a much more sinister tone. I was startled that things seemed to take on this darker vibe. The soothing music had ceased.

I tried again to muster up whatever strength I had left to rise up, but it was to no avail. Then whatever device that held me previously returned, this time with a much stronger grip.

Its unrelenting force choked my body until I eventually passed out. I was once again pushed back into the darkness. This time into an abyss that seemed like forever.

When I finally became conscious again I opened my eyes to find myself in a confined area. It took awhile for my eyesight to adjust. Inches above me drooping down just above my face was what appeared to be an off-white satin-type material. It didn't take much time to realize, I was in my own coffin.

Initially fear invaded my mind, but the fact that I was still alive kept that fear at bay long enough for me to try to figure out just what was going on. I dare not shout out or make any noises. I instead chose to try to listen the best that I could. I could hear voices. It sounded like workers of some sort. Then I heard a rustle of people getting into place and it got real quiet and then I believe my family entered the room. I heard a voice, what seemed like either a doctor or an undertaker. "He was too weak, his heart eventually ..." Nooooo! I tried to scream out, but I couldn't make a sound. I felt my heart beating stronger and stronger. It beat harder and harder so I knew that I was still alive.

I could hear them softly weeping which caused me great mental pain. I weeped as well as I physically and emotionally dropped to the weakest point that I had ever been in my entire life. Not really knowing all of the ins and outs of what was actually going on I lay there pondering all of the possibilities. Images rushed in and out of my mind. Was this it? Had my body finally given out? Was I so special that God was allowing me to witness this crossover into a different realm first hand?

Because all of this was so new to me, and that I felt that there was still some sort of evilness by way of the doctor and her cohorts attached to it somewhat, my survival instincts remained strong and kicked back into action. I really thought deep down inside that at some point my body would gain enough strength for me to push open the lid and let everyone know that I was still alive. For the first time in quite awhile my escape was inches away. I thought strong and hard about this moment. The mental energy of renewal ran from my mind throughout my entire body. I could sense its shockwaves reverberating throughout my joints and limbs. Emotionally it was invigorating. At one point it felt like it could be my final burst of energy before I totally expired so I quickly shut it down. Catching a subconscious mental breath, I thought to myself "Hold up man, don't go on that journey, try to remain calm and plot and plan your escape." And just like that my heartbeat began to slow down and I was even able to wiggle my fingers on my right hand.

To be continued ...

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#65 The Coffin Train

Part 6 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

This coffin train ran from Pittsburgh to somewhere in Beaver County and it contained the bodies of numerous people both black and white and of all different ages. People who suddenly died and somehow their families agreed through their church's to this free burial service in Beaver County. I know it was weird, my suspicion is that all of these folks had died at the hands of this evil doctors failed experiments or their bodies were somehow scooped up with a fake ambulance and these families including mine was somehow sucked into this Jim Jones sort of Kumbaya rolling death march experiment.

I actually summoned my attorney to my bedside during my hospital stay. I asked her to check the records of the ambulance to see who the drivers were and where they took me originally. I was adamant that my body had been hijacked. I called her many months later to apologize for wasting her time.

I laid there inside of this coffin with a million thoughts racing through my mind. With the main thought being just how could I get myself out of this predicament. It would take lots of prayer and some action on my part.

The action part was a waiting game because my body was still asleep from being knocked out of commission during the accident. I remembered waking up momentarily after the initial impact and seeing my legs all wrapped up into the dashboard. Knowing that I knew that I had a long way to go to heal. But what about my arms? That's all I really needed to push the lid up and off of this coffin. Once I had it up I could summon someone for help.

I didn't think I would be in a closed casket for my funeral. Wait! Does the evil doctor and her crew know that I'm still alive? Is this part of their experiment or even worse torture of my mind? If so I'd have to time things just right so that I could do things at just the right time during my funeral ceremony when everyone was present and it was least expected.

I could hear people making plans. They had asked my mother to speak. It was to take place initially at her church. Loran Manns Pentacostle Church in the East Liberty area of Pittsburgh. But in the end my family agreed to include me in this mass burial. It was some sort of new way of doing things I guess to make it easy to deal with this surge of freak accidents that were plaguing our city.

Now that I think of it more and more. I believe that had I given in to their dastardly deeds it may had been reflected in how I was faring in the real world. My wife reported to me once I returned to consciousness that my stats were off the charts. My kidneys were failing, my blood pressure was at some ridiculous high level and I was breathing a three times the normal rate for well over a month. I can't help to think that if I would have closed my eyes and let the funeral take place without a fight then it just might have lead to a funeral in both worlds.

But I didn't. I fought! Somehow I was in contact with my youngest brother through some sort of cryptic morse code scratching on the inside of the casket wall near the seam where the lid rest that I had devised. I can't remember just what It was all about and I don't want to fill in the blanks with some fictional account of what happened. I really wish I could actually remember it all, but only for the sake of reporting it to you all. Other than that I wish to have all of this behind me. Far, far behind me.

The bits and pieces that I do remember are these. I'll try to put them in order the best that I can. I was in a holding area and I was ... wait, you see I've been putting these last five dark chronicles off for months. They represent the darkest part of my experience and as I was just about to recall some of them it dawned on me that the people and places that were stuck in my head were actually things that were going on around me in my hospital room. Wow. It's actually a little refreshing to be able to connect the dots. I guess this too is a sign of healing.

At one point my coffin sat in a hallway of sorts. I could tell be his voice that there was an older white man sitting nearby talking. He was talking about the good ole days and how things use to be and what not. He was talking as though he was pleased that this coffin train was running its course. I remember him telling a young boy to go up and look out the vent on the roof to see just how long this train was.

I remember as my coffin on wheels rolled closer to my service that I tried my very best to time things for my escape. I could hear the soft gospel music growing slightly louder and louder. I could hear the quiet murmur of folks small talk. I fought back tears as I tried to stay focus on the task at hand. As much as I loved theatre this was way too much drama for me. I rehearsed my escape over and over again in my mind. My body was too lethargic to be of any help. It would take all that I had to make this work. I convinced myself that I could do it.

The time had come for me to leap into action. I sent a message to my brother that I was ready and I counted to one hundred in my head. I then gave it all that I had and pushed the lid up! But they were there. Nearer than Matthew my youngest brother. They talked to me as if it was all a mistake. They injected me with something and once again I was thrust into darkness.

To be continued ...

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#66 The Hanging

Part 7 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

These dark dreams are somewhat out of order. I've suppressed so much of these evil suffocating thoughts in my mind that I'll just have to record them the best that I can. After all who really wants to talk about the deepest darkest parts of your existence in this world? Right?

Anyone that came and visited me early on after I regained consciousness after my auto accident knows these parts of the Chronicles all too well. It's all I talked about to them, and at that time it was absolutely real to me. I whispered these stories to my closest friends and did all that I could to convince them not to leave my bedside. I also insisted that my wife and mother stay with me around the clock. I even asked one of my brothers and a close friend to come in with their weapons and stand guard. I asked one to bring in a shotgun and the other a .38. I'm sure everyone thought that I was loopy, but the reality was that this is what my world had become.

As the story went, once they figured out that I was in cahoots with my youngest brother and had attempted to escape their evil clutches they started a slow drip of poison into my system and made plans for me as they waited for me to really die. But by morning I was still alive. Frustrated they hustled me out of the box and turned me over to an older white man who in turn handed me off to two young white teenagers.

I was taken to a barn by a band of misguided youths. It was decided long before we arrived to the structure that I was to be hung from a rafter out of eyesight of the locals. One of the young girls offered a near silent plea for them to let the poison take its effect. I can't recall her name, but she was swiftly told to shut up and help close the door. It was apparent that a mistake was made by saying her name and then there was an outburst of laughter when they collectively realized that I'd be dead soon and it wouldn't matter.

Blind folded all along, they dragged my limp body across the dirt floor. I could barely feel anything. I was dropped to the ground. The leader instructed his side kick to help him with the rope. I heard the several missed attempts to toss it up and over the main beam. Eventually someone scampered up a ladder to fasten the rope properly.

Although blind folded my mind refused to have me believe that they were anything but white. I could smell the smoke coming from their nervously lit cigarettes. And then I heard the thud of the rope hit the ground near my head.

They then struggled to lift me up. They hastily slid the noose over my head and around my neck. I felt no less than six hands on me. Although my body was numb I could still feel their nervous clutches in an attempt to steady me. I was now at the threshold of understanding what many of my ancestors had endured. But for some strange reason fear never entered my mind.

Through all of the nervous maneuvering my blindfold had slightly shifted to where I could slightly see all that was below my left cheek. From this vantage point I could see two alabaster hands outstretched straining to keep me upright. "Why couldn't you just die Nigger?" The leader barked at me. I didn't respond. I was in what appeared to be a vegetive state of existence. But then I could see his dirty hand reach towards me with his burning cigarette. He plunged it repeatedly into my skin. He laughed wildly as I felt nothing.

They leaned me up against a beam and one lone person stood half guard and half kick stand while they quietly searched for a chair or something to lift me up on. Eventually they settled on an old rusty wheelbarrow which they flipped over. They did their best to hustle me up on it but I kept sliding off of its curved edges. Professional hangmen they were not, and the growing frustration of this reality reached its crescendo.

Out of embarrassment or just pure plain ole pistivity the leader pulled out an older black pistol and handed to his sidekick. "Shoot this bastard in his head". The young man hesitated as he briefly thought about the situation.

He yelled at him once more to pull the trigger. He hesitated again. And then out a fit of rage I heard a brief physical exchange and then the shot rang out!

The noise of it blinded my soul. I felt nothing, but it was as though I was thrust deeper into darkness. Like a child being pushed into the deep end of a murky pool.

And In a flash as if one of the channels of my life was switched to another I immediately saw my daughter Ashley standing against a wall looking down at me. Everything was in black and white. It was as though I was privy to watching a surveillance camera. She was dressed in what appeared to be something one would wear to a funeral. It seemed as though we were in some sort of hallway or viewing area. It felt as though I was back in the funeral procession but with my casket parked in the viewing area and she stole away to spend some quiet time with her dead father. It was super strange because I had just been shot point blank in my head and surely I must now be dead.

But I wasn't. I quickly thought that they decided to play the most evil trick on my mind by letting my what seemed to be dead body see my daughter with my eyes open.

I actually initially thought that they had me held up in a separate room and I was watching this whole thing unfold via a video monitor.

I then thought that they must have introduced some type of poison into my system that although I seemed dead allowed me to witness what was going on all around me. But my instincts caused me to call out to her in a muted tone, and too my surprise she responded. I couldn't believe it. I was still alive and for the first time making contact with someone and it was someone who loved me and could help me. I moaned for her to untie me. She couldn't understand what I was saying. I tried again to ask her to untie me. She looked around nervously and asked "Do you want me to get a doctor". I violently shook my head NO!" Fearing that it would let them know that I was still alive. This went on for what seemed like eternity growing from happiness to anger. Culminating at one point with my demanding that she untie me in a voice that caused her to weep.

It would be many months later when talking with Ashley after I had flushed the majority of these evil images from my mind or at least recognized them for what they actually were, nothing more than drug induced visions. It was only then, that when talking with my daughter that we realized that that whole scenario had actually played out, however it was her visiting me at the side of my hospital bed and my instructing her to untie me was actually my attempt to have her pull out my breathing and feeding tubes.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Onward!

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#67 The Second Middle Passage

Part 8 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

I ask my wife to remove my black headband to see where the bullet hole was. She stared blankly at me and ignored my request. Little did I know that my speech was nothing more than unintelligible gibberish and ... I was not wearing a headband at all. I did my best to explain to her through barely intelligible scribblings on various scraps of paper and paper towels that there were evil forces within the walls of the hospital that had an ongoing campaign to kill me. I was fearful of being left alone.

She told me many months later that I pointed out a nurse who I claimed cut off my oxygen during the night. She actually requested that this nurse be taken off of my floor. I don't remember any of this. So ... sorry Nurse in question. My bad.

Late one evening I was awakened by loud yelling. It was my wife having it out with a doctor. They were in a heated argument surrounding her telling them that she knew what they were up to. She told the evil doctor and her side kick verbatim what I had been telling her. Yep, she threw me under the bus. She spilled the beans. I guess it was a bit too much information for her so she decided to be proactive and just get to the bottom of it. What started out as the Evil doctors reassuring voice telling her that I had it all wrong quickly escalated to her male helper telling her how disappointed that he was that we would accuse them of conspiring to hurt me and that they have went out of their way to save my life.

He then cranked it up a notch and said that they would voluntarily stop doing any extra care that they had been providing. I then noticed over the next several weeks that I went from everyone being attentive to hardly anyone checking on me. And when they did, they huddled right outside my room before coming in to see me. Even my clothing, my gowns went from really nice gowns to dirty and run down looking.

All of this because my wife told them that she knew what they were up to. But they still found new ways to intimidate me. Apparently the evil male assistant of hers had put together a funeral video featuring me. It was to be shown at my funeral. It was like a highlight reel, but it also had footage of my mother, my oldest son and my nephew talking about me. It had this weird carnival music playing in the background, and whenever my wife or mother weren't present they played it in the other room. Nurses and their assistants and sometimes doctors would stop and watch. They would laugh and look over their shoulders into my room with grimacing looks on their faces.

I have no clear memory of being in the first hospital. I'm told I was there for an entire month. The whole place seemed like a spaceship. There was a constant stream of people wheeling people up and down the hallways. Everybody was part of a pod of some sorts. I remember the guy next to me constantly being a problem person. They had to roll up there sleeves and deal with him on a regular basis. Sometimes they had extra people come in to help with him. He always had some ignorant stuff to say about me. I'm not sure why.

I don't know if I've written about this before, but once a week when no one was around late at night they would switch all of the lights into black lights like at the fun house or like Cosmo bowling. They'd play acid rock and walk around with styrofoam cups.

Once they prepared me for some type of procedure and they wheeled me into a room. Everybody was super secretive. I kept telling my mother "This is it! They're gonna say it was a mistake! I'm a goner!" I looked up into the ceiling and there was a woman's head talking to me softly. My mom couldn't see her. They sent a woman in to talk about the procedure and you could tell that every word that seeped out of her mouth was a lie.

They strapped me into a special oversized wheelchair and took me out into the hallway. I don't remember much more than that.

You see, none of this really happened. They were all the narcotic induced visions that ran rampant in my mind.

However, they were all not negative.

One of the strongest and most powerful images I had in my mind at this time was this vision of a speeding ... a surge if you will, of Black Men. They were all bent slightly down like cyclist going against or rather making a penetrating thrust forward. It's was a side view of them, all from the waist up with their lower body in motion. A great many. They all had a determined look on their faces. It was like the Second Middle Passage! But this time around ... a positive one. It was as though I was destined to be with them on their journey. I joined the group as they made their way past me. We were all succinct and bathed in a bright bronze light from the eastern horizon.

We were all determined to ... get there.

Onward!

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#68 Revelations

Part 9 in a series of 9 Dark Chronicles

My world this past year has been similar to shaking up a snow globe and watching the flakes of my life slowly make their way back to the ground. My mind and body were violently shaken at 4:18 pm on May 11th 2015. A year later at a routine doctors appointment my wife and I found out that my coughing fit was a thing called Vasovagal Syncope. Apparently it's a spin off from my having hay fever. You cough so hard that it causes your blood supply to be temporarily cut off from your brain and then it's light out. Although you're unconscious for only a brief amount of time, it was apparently enough for me to cross the yellow line and ram into an oncoming school bus.

These past eight Dark Chronicles are all a result of the narcotic medications that I was subjected to for five weeks following my accident. I was placed in an induced coma for two of those weeks so that multiple surgeries could be performed. During this time these Images had invaded my mind. I've tried to write about them the best that I could to purge them from my mind. And I will continue with this final ninth dark chronicle.

The following situations are all completely out of order and we're not fully recalled but are still a part of my experience. I will list a few of them in no particular order, and discuss them briefly. Towards the end of my being held captive my final abduction was the following. I found myself being tied up and gagged in a hotel near an airport in another city. It went like this ...

Some man who was hired by the Evil doctor's people took me blindfolded to a cheap motel. I could tell by the exterior noise that it was near an airport. I could hear planes routinely taking off and landing. I guess I was somewhat drugged because I don't remember much about how I got there. I remember being tied to a bed with duct tape over my mouth. He injected me with something. I remember being awake through all of this. He then turned on some sort of recording device that had voices of two men talking with music playing in the background. It was looped and played continuously. He whispered in my ear "Sorry" and exited the room.

Physically weak I struggled briefly to get loose but it was to no avail. I could hear people in the hallways occasionally but my moans for help were drowned out by the recording and my being gagged. I don't remember much more of this.

At one point the Evil doctor and her crew had to admit that i was still alive.

It was a really big deal because the announcement was made that I died in the automobile accident. They decided to make it a big celebration of my miraculous recovery. That's where that whole video that they made came about. They tried to switch it to a video about my recovery. They wanted to interview my mother and I at some studio. It was in a newly constructed building.

I remember being tied up in the basement of this studio in downtown Pittsburgh. I hadn't seen my mother at all. But I was told to lay there quietly until they were to bring me up. I remember there being a monitor that showed the studio. There was also a small window that lead to the outside.

I remember seeing the face of a friend that's a Pgh Police officer. He's one of my neighbors. He yelled through the window "Mark, are you alright?" I motioned no by shaking my head so as not to draw attention. He disappeared from sight. I figured that help was on the way. Then I heard my mothers voice. I turned to look but only at her on the monitor. They were interviewing her without me. The host told her that I was unable to make it. I moaned loudly.

I don't remember much more about this.

Although I believe that image of the police in the window was my police officer neighbor who was at the scene of my accident either peeking in the car right after the crash asking me was I alright or maybe his looking into the ambulance asking me the same.

Another event that was ongoing was this situation that happened between a good friend of mine who's a fellow playwright and a friend from my steel mill days. They both are white, I mention this so as to take multitudes of friends out of the equation. This was by far one of the most mentally impactful visions. Primarily because long after I emerged from my nightmarish coma he came to visit me and I was too frightened to mention it to him for fear of it being real. I wanted no connection so I acted as though I knew nothing of it. I had small conversation with him. It went like this. The plan was that the three of us were going to pitch in on a beach home in a resort area. The problem was that our friend from the mill was going to leave his wife and move down to the beach house with his girlfriend. Well he told his wife all about it and they apparently agreed to separate. He asked me and our mutual friend to help find his wife a house to move into.

I ignored his request. He hired a man to find her a house. But in actuality he was lying to us all along. His wife knew nothing about any of this. The man he hired actually was hired to kill her. Which he did. I never showed up at the beach house. Because the same man that killed this woman was the man who gagged and tied me up and left me to die at the motel by the airport. Now I'm guessing that this was done so that I would not testify in court about what had happened.

Yes these weird drugged induced nightmares always connected somewhat. There were plenty. I'm starting to think that Stephen K gets high on narcotics. So many other occurrences. Too numerous to mention. Some without beginnings or endings. I guess it's a good thing.

As I approach my fifth day of being "Off" pain meds I can truly say "It's been a real trip". I unfortunately had to miss my neighborhood reunion the other day. I struggled to prepare to go both physically and mentally. But the emotional boost that my pain meds gave me was no longer in my system to encourage me. Those around me don't understand and there's an emotional pain that comes along with that as well.

Never again will I think negatively about someone who may be suffering from mental illness or addiction. I will no longer wonder why classmates, neighbors or family members don't show up at reunions. I will now understand and have a greater appreciation and respect for their taking the space thats needed to exist in this cold world.

If darkness enters your world my friends be it real or imagined. Pray hard. Fight hard! Give it your best fight for survival and pray to the creator to grant you the strength for that battle.

And please ... surround yourself with love. You must absolutely do this.

Be it family, friends, pets or prayer. Whatever and whoever brings joy and warmth to your heart and soul.

Onward!

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#69 Magical Hands

Most people, well most men relate to massages as a potentially sexual experience ....... myself included.

You wonder to yourself if it's a woman giving the massage and she's fine, pretty, cute, sexy or anything that turns you on then I'm gonna get excited and there's gonna be a need for a happy ending of some sorts. I'm sorry this is the chronicles where the truth must be told.

My wife doesn't read my chronicles so it makes it a lot easier for me to open up. See she's more of a private person and I respect that. Speaking of her and massages, one time for a birthday present she blindfolded me and drove me to Shadyside. She pulled up in front of this building and had me take off my blindfold. It was some physical fitness place. Believe me I would have loved for it to had been a Red Lobster or a Duncan Donuts. I'm like "Really? You're gonna make me exercise for my birthday?" And I'm still wondering how it must have looked for a brother to be driven thru Shadyside with a blindfold on. I'm going to leave that one alone.

Anywho she tells me to go in and ask for I wanna say "Helga". That wasn't really her name but that's what I'm going to call her. So I go in and ask for this woman. I'm thinking she's going to be my trainer or something, especially since my wife made me wear warm up pants. So Helga greets me and takes me to this little room in the back. She opens the door and there's this table in there. I'm like ok, I'm getting a massage. So I get a really nice full body massage. It lasted for about an hour. Helga was from some cold country, I could tell but I didn't ask. Or maybe I did and like her name I just don't remember.

She finished up and I got dressed and left. My wife was waiting for me in the lobby. As we strolled arm and arm down the fall streets of Shadyside window shopping, she ask repeatedly how my massage went until finally I hit her with "Did you know that she was going to do that?" She's like "Do what?" I'm like "Did you pay her to do that?" She has this quizzical look on her face. "What are you talking about?" she says. "Baby she gave me a happy ending" I said with a slight smile. She shot back "She did what?". Before her inner volcano erupted I had to tell her the truth, that I was just joking.

I can't begin to tell you how bad I wanted to let that little white lie simmer inside her mind. But I love her so much. "Naw baby I'm just messing with you". But you see those words "Happy ending" are synonymous with massages.

See growing up you never knew when you were gonna pop a woody. I mean it could happen at any time and any place. So you have those sometimes embarrassing memories not only locked into your mind but into your uncontrollable muscle as well.

I personally have no idea when Hank will be on the move. Especially since my accident. Unlike myself he hasn't properly been receiving rehab and it's not an insurance thing ...

Anywho. So now when I get a massage I cross my fingers and hope and pray that he doesn't choose to wake from his deep slumber.

See to me there's all sorts of ways to heal, and getting massages are no exception. Every since I came out of that deep five week sleep I was in, my back had always felt like it had a hard half inch sheet of plastic on it. Like I had somewhat of a turtle shell. It was no doubt due to my spinal fusion where they attached two fourteen inch titanium metal rods to my spine. No medicine could make this strange feeling in my back go away. It was a constant day and nightmare.

Then one day in a moment of clarity I thought to myself "Why don't I call my good friend Rhonda the masseuse?"

Rhonda was a traveling massage therapist that I've hired numerous times to come set up at the theater to provide body massages for our actors on opening night. I ended up moving it back to preview nights for obvious reasons, and then eventually to our tech rehearsals. This easily knocked twenty minutes off of the show. I found that the actors were relaxed and focused. They executed their roles at a much better pace.

When I called her she move things around in her schedule and came out to work on my back. It felt special letting the nursing staff know that my own personal masseuse was going to make a visit. I felt like a mob boss getting a massage in my room. See because I knew everyone could relate to just how good a professional massage must feel.

She visited me twice a week and I'm telling you that plastic shell feeling was history after three visits. She did a deep tissue massage initially. This broke up that plastic sheet feeling into plastic pieces. She then sent those packing in the next two subsequent visits. Did I really need to use that big word? Yes it felt good saying it.

Anywho, she went on to locate whiplash below my neck area. Yes you heard me right. She found deep trauma embedded into my muscles from the accident. She also located this in my wife. Hard knots in our muscles that she rubbed out in repeat visits. See I'm learning a lot thru this whole experience. There are people all around us that are professionals at what they do. I'm getting schooled on my body by non traditional health professionals. Massage therapist, Chiropractors, Acupuncturist and even Chefs.

When most people think about massages they say "I'll just get my woman to hook me up" or "I'll just ask my man". And some folks have a good partner that can do that, and it's free.... or is it? Hey I'm just sayin'. Anywho, ... yes that's three Anywho's in this particular chronicle for those who are counting. So maybe you get a free massage. That's great. But I can assure you that it will be nowhere on the level of a professional massage. I know some of you are thinking "I can't afford to be payin' to get my back rubbed". Well people pay for what they really want. Trust me I use to think the same way. "We don't need no hotel baby, we can use the back seat of my ride". I think I heard that in a movie. People can get cheap, there's no doubt about it, but I'm telling you a professional massage is worth every penny. Look around your house right now, I guarantee you probably have some stuff you wasted your money on. Listen you will get every penny's worth at Magical Hands right across from the Shakespear Giant Eagles.

I'm like Dorothy wandering thru the land of Oz in my recovery. Meeting new and exciting people that are assisting me in my journey of recovery. I thank God for putting me on the right path. Take good care of your body friends. You only get one chance to inhibit it on this earth.

Onward!

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#70 Update #2

I know some of you may be thinking to yourselves "Marks gotten away from his chronicles as far as content. He's talking about stuff that has nothing to with his healing". Well that may seem true but to me it's all related.

But I do feel that I've not been sharing more personal healing situations with you all. Mainly because it's been such an up and down battle and sometimes I just don't feel like dragging you through all of it. But in this chronicle I do want to give you an update.

Firstly I don't want to complain about the health care industry. I will say that these wonderful folks saved my life and I'm truly grateful for that. But I will also say that at some point it becomes a game and believe me they are winning big time when it comes to making money. But you all already know this.

I recently got a bill for close to $5,000 from a plastic surgeons office for multiple visits while I was at the rehab office. I'm like "Wait a minute, I didn't have any plastic surgery". So my wife calls this office to inquire about this bill that apparently isn't covered by our insurance. Turns out that they also handle wound care. Now I do remember the wound care people coming to my room once a day to take a look at my wounds. The first visit was involved. They spent a decent amount of time checking out all of my wounds. My legs, stomach, back and a few other places. This lasted for maybe a half hour to forty-five minutes. On one visit they removed a few small sutures from my leg. Other than that their follow up daily visits lasted for less than five minutes. Someone would come in, usually very early in the morning, take a quick look at my leg, ask me how I was feeling and leave. Like I said these subsequent visits lasted for less than five minutes.

So I'm looking at this bill and they charged $340 for each visit. I'm like "What?" It's absolutely crazy. And that's just for one group that visited me.

I averaged nine different Doctors and specialist visits each and every day, it was crazy.

And yes, the day of financial reckoning has arrived. I did finally get the "Big" bill. It was 1.6 Million. Yes, you heard me right. I tucked it away. Insurance covered a fraction of it so far. They'll continue to go back and forth and whittle it down I guess. I'm not going to go crazy over it. I've been taking care of the overages here and there and just basically maintaining.

So I've been going to see an acupuncturist once a week for the last two month or so. Now for those of you who are squeamish about getting pins stuck into your body trust me I was the same way until I tried it and got immediate results. First of all its not invasive. The pins are so small that you barely feel them. See we're not use to eastern medicine. Well take it from me it works. After my first visit last month I was able to move my toes upwards for the first time since the accident. This is huge because this now helps me to walk a lot better. Also after several visits a lot more feeling has returned to my left foot. Prior to visiting him I had about 20 percent feeling in my left foot. Now it's in the 60 percent range.

This is huge for so many reasons. Now I don't have to take as much nerve pain medicine, I can feel things better when I walk. So that's closer to normal. If I bump my foot I can immediately feel the pain, where as before it was like walking around with a dead foot.

I've also been seeing a chiropractor and that is helping as well. The first time he snapped my neck bones I was like "Whaaaat?" I had been to a chiropractor before many moons ago but it was for my back. I had forgot just how good they can make you feel. Anywho both of these guys send me back out into the world feeling good with my hope meter turned all the way up. I also see a masseuse from time to time, I have a whole chronicle on that experience coming soon. And I just started working out with a trainer again, although because of my trips back and forth to Columbus and a flare up of my right knee our workout regiment has been somewhat stalled.

I'm currently in Columbus directing August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. This in itself is very therapeutic. I don't do much at all during the day. Mostly write, think and rest. I preserve my energy just to make the journey to and from rehearsals. The healing process is a long one. It took only mere minutes to get crunched up but it will take so much more time to heal. It's like balling up a piece a paper and then trying to straighten it out. Most of those creases will remain but some will smooth out. It's a journey my friends.

Onward!

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#71 Got my Yep, Yep and other things back!

It was like the Men in Black aimed that tiny silver thing towards me and zapped me with a beam of light. I can't recall the exact moment I was reunited with the conscious world. And in all honesty what I do remember of those early awakenings my wife tells me most of them never actually took place. Or it could have been that they were a perfect mix of hallucinations and the real.

One of the earliest recollections was waking up to find myself laid out on a slab, which I guess was my hospital bed. I had on a beige or slightly mustard colored jumpsuit with an array of conveniently placed zippers. I wrote about this earlier I believe. The center zipper was zipped down to my waist.

I had lost so much weight it appeared to me that I had a six pack.

The slab I was on had sides. Like I was in a shallow box. It had many meanings to me as I slipped in and out of consciousness. I once imagined myself on a small raft fighting off sharks; it also floated vertically at times with me strapped to it having me believe I was on a spacecraft, and eventually I found myself in it much like an open casket. I usually woke up really quick when that vision pounced on me.

Those five weeks of unconsciousness, slipping in and out before I eventually stayed in the real world for good. During that time I lost a lot of things.

Memory-wise I had no recollection of anything months prior to the accident.

I knew I had worked in Florida and Chicago but that was the extent of it.

I remembered my loved ones and friends when they entered my room. I initially cried whenever I saw someone for the first time. Those tears of joy streamed out because I was glad my life was spared, and God gave me the opportunity to see them again and connect the dots in my mind of our relation and friendship.

Some personal dot-connecting came unexpectedly in the form of things lost and forgotten making themselves known over time. One of the ongoing absences was my Apple thumbprint ID. It refused to work on my phone and I couldn't figure out whether the problem was me or the phone. I concluded it was me. My skin was dry and tough.

I was peeling in several areas. Mainly my feet and legs, but my hands also felt different and my thumb was no exception.

I lost my sweet tooth as well. I couldn't believe it. I sat there and sadly watched my children eat all of my gift candy and my mother swipe anything chocolate and tip toe out of the room. I'd jokingly yell out in a whisper. "Swiper swipe!"

Parents of young kids will get it.

And this went on for weeks, months!

I was so mad that I forced myself to eat some chocolate donuts only to give up after one bite.

I couldn't wear my wedding ring. My fingers were so boney that my wife determined that it just wasn't a good idea.

I tried to remember what I was wearing at the time of the accident, but I couldn't recall anything whatsoever.

I thought about how they cut you out of your clothes and whatever pair of jeans I had on were probably destroyed.

You think about all kinds of things like that when you're heavily medicated and laid up in a bed unable to move.

It wasn't until I got to rehab that things slowly started to emerge from the caverns of my mind and body.

First came my sweet tooth. I started eating more than a half of cupcake. I knew I was back when I started licking my fingers.

I had always been an avid Coke drinker but for some reason I couldn't stand the taste of it now. I actually started taking a sip or two of Pepsi. I never liked Pepsi that much but it was sweet. I mean I had a few spells when I was younger where Pepsi beat out Coke.

But once I got introduced to Rum and Cokes I left Pepsi alone.

But now my love for Coke had diminished. Yes, it pretty much went by the wayside much like pork back when I was seventeen. It was a challenge by a friend who was pledging Muslim. I called it the Pork Experiment That Stuck. That's another Chronicle altogether.

Anywho, my love for Coke had been so strong that I forced myself to drink it. It started with a sip, then a quarter of a can, a half and then I eventually nursed myself all the way to downing an entire can. Granted they were the small pony sized cans. But my love for Coke had returned and I sent the sweet tasting Pepsi packing.

It wasn't until I returned home that I regained the balance of my lost things.

First it was my hat. "My hat, my hat, my hat, myyy haaaat!"

Yes, I found my favorite hat in a Giant Eagle bag filled with stuff that my brothers scavenged from the mangled wreckage of my Chevy Suburban at the junk yard.

And then one magical day I touched my iPhone with my thumb and it unlocked.

Yes, my thumb recognition was back!

I guess enough dead skin wore off to reveal my surface DNA or something like that.

I was elated. I was moving forward in life! I immediately asked my wife if she could get my wedding ring for me. She brought it downstairs and I tried it on. It was a little loose but it stayed on during the shake test. So I wear it occasionally now. Pretty much like before the accident. Hey, I'm not a big jewelry guy.

The skin on my injured left leg finally smoothed out, I mean it still looks like it took an axe straight on but now my skin was smooth. The last scab was gone. After five months! Thank GOD! After five months my skin had finally healed. I'm talking about deep wounds where my bones had come through my skin.

Yes, that was a major sign of improvement. I felt as though everything was coming together. My old self was settling back into my body and brain. But something was missing. I somehow felt like a genetic manifestation of myself. My kewl was not present. I was just existing.

My close friends knew this. They were gentle with their words. And then they slowly started to help me. Several friends and family kinda jumpstarted me with a yep here and a yep there. Yes, I quickly caught on and I graduated that therapy in less than a week. Subconsciously they had nurtured me. Usually when signing off on a text exchange, or an email, or at the end of a phone call. I'd get a yep. Never a double yep, just a yep. They didn't want to overstep the boundary. And just earlier today I finished a phone call with a double yep.

Yep, yep. I got my yep, yep back!

All I can say is,

Onward!

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#72 Trauma Bag

I've always wondered what I was wearing the day of the accident. I kept trying to remember but I couldn't pin point exactly what I had on. And every time I had an inkling of just what it was I was wearing that fateful day it wasn't long before the pants that I thought I had on showed up somewhere in the house. I was really hoping it wasn't my favorite jeans, but then they showed up.

Well yesterday, I decided to do a little straightening up. I was trying to locate some paperwork when I came upon a plastic bag stuffed down on the side of my desk. It was much like those hard plastic bags that sheet sets or comforters come in. It was a see-thru bag and in it was a full 8.5" x 11" yellow sheet of paper with the UPMC logo at the top.

UPMC
Receipt of Patients Belongings
Southers Mark C.
May 12, 2015 9:40am
Rm 6G-11
Received by Lorill Readie-Southers
Family member
Trauma Bag

It was a long-lost missing piece of a puzzle. Now that it was finally in place I could for once see the entire picture. Them cutting off my shorts and shirt. Then cutting my stomach open to stop the internal bleeding. Washing away the blood so that they can have an unobstructed look at my injuries. Removing my one remaining sandal off of my twisted foot where blood, debris and glass fragments have collected.

Yes, there they were. My favorite summer shorts. A dark green pair of plaid walking shorts. Ripped or cut off of me. Small glass shards still embedded in them. And my red plaid boxers cut down the side. I'm glad I was wearing clean underwear!

My gray tee shirt. Surgically cut right down the middle just like my stomach.

I was guessing by the weight of the bag that they had forgotten to include my shoes; however upon further inspection I located one lone black sandal. Yes! I remember those sandals! I guess the other one was still in my vehicle. Who cares about shoes when you're that jacked up, right?

Anywho, as I inspected the sandal more closely I could see that the surface was covered with dried blood and it had lots of small glass particles embedded in it.

I could now reimagine just how I must have looked when they placed me on the stretcher after cutting me out of my truck. One of my friends who was there told my wife that I was cracking jokes as they placed me on the stretcher. I don't remember any of that but I can't imagine just what my routine would have been like. Maybe sometime like

"A man drives into an empty school bus ..."

No one laughs. Instead they give me a shot to shut me up and throw me into the ambulance and hustle me off to Oakland. I'll have to ask my neighbor and friend who was a police officer on the scene, was this true, and if so does he remember any of the jokes?

During the time of my initial inspection of this bag I received a call from my good friend and cool father figure Anthony Chisholm. I quickly told him what I was up to and he responded by saying, "Uhh, you oughta seek out a collage artist and have them put it all together and frame it". "Um, that's a great idea Chizzo, but I'm not sure if I really want to walk past this on my wall on a daily", I replied. Then seconds later my wife called me from out of town and instead of putting him on hold I merged the calls letting her know he was on the line. I really didn't want to place him on hold so we had a three way call going. I explained to her what was going on.

I knew she probably was a little perturbed that she ended up on an unannounced three way call, but due to the nature of what was going on she gave me a grief pass. As I began to tell her about my discovery, it happened just like that. My sensitivities escaped me and I began to weep about it all. It was just too much as I unraveled my shirt during the conversation to find a part of my turn signal handle hidden in its folds.

It was a violent crash. My body is a constant reminder of that. I thank God daily for sparing me. Well, maybe not daily. I'm not going to lie, this is the Chronicles. But there are those lowly days when I question why did he, or she, or just plain ole creator, why did it allow it to even happen. Yeah, "it" doesn't sound too good. Work with me here folks, I'm trying to appease everyone. I'm trying my best to keep it one hundred. I usually say keep it real, but I wanted to sound a little more hip so I threw 100 in there. Anywho I'll try to stop trippin'. Blame it on the meds. So yeah, I was mad at God the creator for years. Ever since my daughter was born with a syndrome. I was like, how could a loving God do this to a innocent child?

I struggled with that thought for many years, through all of her trials and tribulations. It wreaked havoc on everything including my first young marriage. It wasn't until recently that I stepped foot back into a church to worship. My mother never gave up on me and after many excuses, tons of excuses whenever she asked me to attend service with her, I finally went a few weeks ago. She texted me early one Sunday morning and I immediately texted her right back.

I knew that it was too early for the boys to get ready, so I decided to just go with my mom solo. It was a small service but I saw plenty of friends, including several Facebook friends who I got to meet in person for the first time.

It's amazing what memories the contents of a plastic bag can bring back. How items can move you to tears. I'm not mad at God anymore. How could I be? I look at it as the creator slowing me down to have a better appreciation for this life. And I do. I mean I really do. It's a beautiful world, well, other than all of this racism and that demigod Trump. But I'm working on our relationship, God and I, not the Donald. My days are a constant struggle mentality, physically and spiritually, but I'm reminded that God doesn't give you any more that you can't handle. I know that I'm very blessed to have two great women of God in my life. And a great trio of children to keep me focused and positive. And also a great support team of friends like you.

Onward!

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#73 My Week

Well I've been off of the Facebook grid Chronicle-wise for well over a week. That's a pretty long time for me because my FB community keeps me strong both mentally and spiritually.

Plus not to mention that I really need to stay on track with my two-chronicle-a-week postings to reach my goal of completion in time for the one-year anniversary of my accident, at which time they will cease and I'll move on to other more cheerful endeavors and put this dark but enlightening time behind me.

But more about all of that later. Let's get back into the Chronicle groove.

What began as a simple plan less than two weeks ago, quickly faded into a challenging battle, physically, mentally and spiritually. Yes it was epic!

The plan was to see two different surgeons that would bookend a great week of theatrical activity that I had planned. I had to teach playwriting for two consecutive days for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Theatre Arts workshop along with a great group of talented folks. It's something that I look forward to every year, so I was super excited to join my colleagues in this endeavor. Also my band of merry actors and I were to travel to Maryland to do a staged reading later in the week. So it was a great week in the making. These types of things are really uplifting and they bring me much-needed joy.

So back to the bookends for the week.

I saw my orthopedic surgeon early in the week to discuss my once-healed strong right knee. I had a relapse in its performance to the point where I can hardly put weight on it. So I was lucky to get an appointment to go in and try to find out just what could be done to make it easier for me to walk with the knee issue. I didn't know what to expect but I knew that there was definitely a problem with my knee and it was prohibiting me from not just walking but also from exercising properly.

Well, that visit didn't go so well. I guess I expected him to say, let's go in there and clean it out. Instead he told me he thought that what was left of my meniscus (which is like a big sea scallop that cushions where the knee meets your lower leg bone. Something like that. You can google it.) Anywho, he seemed to think that it flopped around in there and that's what was causing me so much pain. So back into the world dealing with this, waiting for it to subside or to flip back over or whatever. But hey! I have some great theatrical activity to draw my attention away from this, right?

So the two workshops were fun. My good friend Wali Jamal took the load off of me initially by getting us into the groove of teaching and presenting. My other fellow playwrights Kim El, Dr. Tameka Cage Conley and Monteze Freeland all pitched in and did an outstanding job in making Intro Into Playwriting seem accessible to these young minds. Now that I'm deep into this story I'm realizing that my two doctor appointments really aren't lining up to be bookends. I guess it's the meds that have me thinking that way because I actually went to see the second surgeon on Thursday and then we left for Maryland early Friday morning. OK, so on Thursday I go see this renowned Orthopedic surgeon who performs surgeries on people with dropped foot. (See the pic.)

Initially I wanted to travel to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to see this top surgeon there who was an expert in repairing dropped foot. Please google that as well. Dropped foot. Well, in order to see him I needed a referral from my doctor. Well, my doctor preferred that I see someone locally so he instead referred me to a local surgeon.

So I go see this guy, and I should mention that I'm really excited. I should also mention that I rarely get excited. OK, in case you didn't google foot drop or dropped foot, it's what I have with my left foot. It's what prevents me from walking normally.

I have been told that sometimes your nerves will wake up and you'll regain normal use. Well, it's not like I'm impatient and can't wait around for that to happen. It's that I got jacked up in this accident. I mean really jacked up. Severely jacked up, and quite frankly like Enaid said in Chronicle #28, "Sometimes it could take up to three hundred years for them to come back". Well, as much as I hated hearing her say that, there is some truth to that statement. That, coupled with the notion that my injuries were substantial, I really don't want to wait it out. It's very mentally and physically challenging to even get up and walk to the bathroom. So I'm vigorously pursuing getting my left foot repaired.

Well, both of my doctor's visits left me without a strong sense of hope. Especially the latter where I was basically informed that there was nothing that he could do for me. A lot of excitement had built up inside of me prior to that disheartening news. I had it in my head that this surgeon was going to do a tendon transfer that would allow my left foot to function on a better level. He explained to me that because I can only slightly move my foot to the left but not to the right at all then he can only fuse it in an upward position. Which is basically the same as my wearing a brace. An unnecessary surgery really. I may as well wear a brace to achieve that. But sadly this surgeon informed me that my injuries were too severe and that I would have to wait to see if my nerves that were stretched during my accident would eventually wake up.

So the only saving grace left for me other than praying was to return to the magically mentally healing world of theatre. With that in mind I traveled to Maryland hand-in-hand with the works of my late mentor August Wilson, aided by a strong Broadway-caliber ensemble.

Onward!

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#74 Men and Mice

I've always believed in the notion that everything in life balances out in one way or another. The pendulum of life takes swings back and forth from the negative to the positive.

Take for instance the great panoramic view that we have from the rear of our home, Falling Rock. It looks out into what appears to be a rain forest most days, but on the flip side it also inhabits multitudes of small rodents which sometimes make their way into our cozy abode.

We've both heard the tiny mice gnawing in the walls late at night, but we found ourselves much too tired to climb those fourteen stairs to retire for the evening, and more so to evade their pesky noises.

Occasional trips to Home Depot for mouse traps and sticky pads helped diminish their ranks. I've also found their petrified bodies due to starvation when changing the ceiling tiles or installing new kitchen cabinets.

And yes, we've seen their occasional signature calling card, those missile shaped pellets strewn throughout the kitchen at various times.

Most of these occurrences took place during our "No cat years", that three year mourning period between the death of "Patty" up until we bought and brought a new cat into the home. During that time it was as though we sublet our ceilings and crawl spaces to the mice on a seasonal basis. Winter through early spring, and again in the fall, they repeatedly found their way back into Falling Rock. Hey, I grew up with hamsters as pets and I enjoyed watching Willard and its sequel with MJ singing the title track of Ben. And as much of a Michael Jackson fan my wife is, she has no love for those tiny little furry critters.

"Ben, the two of us will look no more. We've both found what we were looking for"

Yes, Michael sang a love song to a rat. But let it be known, there's no love for them ... at Falling Rock!

So on this night. In my present condition, unable to walk without a cane, and too weak to raise up out of my chair in a single bound. I had no choice but to ride it out. Remain calm and still in my oversized sitting chair ... and listen to their nocturnal noises in my solitude.

The room was extremely dark except for the glare of the late night infomercials' blue and white hues occasionally bouncing off of the walls.

I dare not wake my wife to ask for her assistance to go upstairs because the little mice are freaking me out.

And where is that dag gone cat? Usually he's Johnny on the spot with any noise remotely resembling that of a varmint. But not this night. I quietly whistled for "Moonwalk", yes, that's our cats name. That's another chronicle, trust me. I whistled for this cat much like you do a dog. Sorry, I have no cat gathering skills, plus he only comes to me if I have food.

Prior to the accident we were cool, he'd used to always come up to me and hang out. I guess I was gone for to long. Four months in cat months has to be longer than humans. I mean they have that whole dog year thing. Anywho, "Mooney" as I have nicknamed him is nowhere in sight. The noise is getting louder and louder. I'm thinking to myself this mouse is pretty bold.

Out of desperation I beat my cane down hard on the floor to shoo it away. But it was to no avail. I did it again, but this time much harder in hopes that at the very least my wife would come down in a rush to both inquire about the noise and then check on me. Yes, in that order.

I heard no movement, neither upstairs or on the stairs. I contemplated moving to the couch and calling it a night but the fear of having my eyes chewed out in my sleep loomed large. Too many spooky movies I guess, but wouldn't eye balls be a delicious snack for a rodent? I mean, we eat all kinds of stuff, who's to say that the Anthony Bourdain of the rodent world wasn't cohabiting with us at Falling Rock.

What was weird is that usually the mice partied in the wall directly behind the bar. Now they've moved their little party to the other side of the room nearer the neatly stacked woodpile. Well, that would make sense. Especially if they're wood mice. They're used to climbing up and around logs and leaves and whatnot. Plus I could have sworn the cat was perched nearby that spot earlier in the day. Yes, their noises shifted but because I was in the high back chair I could have sworn they were still behind the bar. I had to sit up and go through a series of turning my head back and forth at different angles to figure out just where those pesky sounds were coming from. All tests led to the wood pile.

As much as my brain wanted to force me to believe that they were still behind the bar, in the end my ear data won out.

I should also mention — and I'm somewhat reluctant to share this, but this is the chronicles where the truth must be told. See, I don't want people thinking that I'm some type of slumlord. Although I'm quite sure that some already do, but that's a whole "Nother" Chronicle.

I received a call several hours prior that evening from one of my tenants. She called to tell me that she thought there might be a rodent in her kitchen. Specifically under her sink.

Well, that's a strong possibility because this property also abuts a wooded area and we have battled both the big and the little mice there in the past. Yes, the big mice starts with an R. Thank you very much. I tell you all of this because as I sat there in the dark, this is what was floating around in my head, folks!

I'm thinking could it be the big mice that start with a capital R? Have they invaded Falling Rock? They're certainly making big mice noises. They seem to have more courage than normal.

See, my real fear of getting up and going over to turn the light switch on was that in the rare case it darted out in front of me I could actually fall into our new flatscreen TV. Since that big 60" and I have become good friends, I certainly didn't want that to happen. And secondly I didn't want to get hurt. Yes, that's the order! Please don't judge me, I'm a real man.

Also I should mention that just two days prior, I had my electrician buddy, Brett, move the light switch to the other side of the room closer to the front door.

So I decided to stay put and ride it out. I mean, what could really happen, right?

The noise inched closer and closer. It was as if it were challenging me to move from the safety of my chair. Get me out into the open where it could pounce on me and sink its little teeth into my ankles.

I sat there facing the sad reality that I was no longer my former self. That it was quite possible that I could be taken out by a small critter. Yes, the fear was debilitating; it loomed large over me. My whole body froze as the insistent biting and gnawing grew closer and closer. "What could it be chewing on so close to me?" I thought to myself.

Yes my coffee table is made of wood, African hard wood at that. The table was less than two feet away from me. So in a last ditch effort to man up, I summoned all of my strength to reach for my phone ... and call my wife!

What? Mama ain't raise no fool. My wife is a mother F'n super hero!

She's the one that nursed me back. Shoot, I know what I'm doin'. She'd come down here and turn the lights on ... and fix me a sandwich.

I fumbled around searching for my phone. I found it and as I was about to hit number 1 on the speed dial, out of the corner of my eye I saw something move. It was floor level, down near the coffee table to my right. I'm like, this bold little mother! Then without hesitation it appeared in full sight! It slowly made its way front and center with back and forth jerks.

It was Andre's yellow battery-operated remote-controlled bulldozer. I'm like "You dirty little mother f'er!"

The next morning I told my wife the story as she washed my back in the tub. She said "Yes, Ashley mentioned that the toy may be possessed. Because it works even when the button is switched to off".

Go figure, a Taiwanese glitch! Well the good thing is ... trash day is tomorrow.

Onward!

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#75 ReMarkable

Wow! Wow! Wow! I can't describe the other night in just one word.

The tremendous outpouring of love and generosity was indeed overwhelming.

I first want to thank the incredible dynamic duo of Tami & Jeff.

Thank you both so much for gathering such an array of great artists and putting together a very memorable evening. And Ray Werner, what can I say, Pop? You have been there for me, to offer wise and thoughtful advice. You have comforted me in ways mental and spiritual that only a father can. I appreciate your efforts and our friendship.

Lynne Hayes-Freeland, thank you for steering that huge ship of talent on the August Wilson stage.

Monteze Freeland, Jo O, Gab Cody and Nik Nemec for making sure things ran smoothly with your crew including my friends Big E and Chris.

Deryck Tines, thank you so much for bringing your soulfully rich choir!

They lifted my family and me up to heights unimaginable during these difficult times. And you, my friend, are sheer energy and masterful in all that you do!

Eric A. Smith and Reese Redwood, Wow! CREW Productions turned in a top notch video presentation on the HBO level. Excellent work my friends. It was moving and completely captured our journey. We appreciate your diligence and hard work compiling it.

And my good friend Dr. Tameka Cage Conley. Your gentle but firm approach to my work was touching and beautifully delivered.

Hotep The Artist, your "Dance of the Healing Metamorphosis" was once again invigorating and uplifting.

Mandy L Kivowitz-Delfaver, Oh my! Your swerve dance to your song was mesmerizing. I felt like a Cobra emerging from a wicker basket.

Kim El, why wasn't I surprised to hear you read #7, Mike & Ike's? You lived it and read it with perfect cadence. Thank you for all that you've done for me. You have no idea what effect you and Cheryl's visits had on me. Thank you my friends.

And MJ aka Mils James. Oh my goodness, your talent is endless.

You have been a friend of our family for many years. Thank you for being there for us. And thank you for that beautiful song, sung from the depths of your heart. You are loved and appreciated!

Leslie Ezra Smith thank you first for sharing your left shoe with me prior to going on stage. It allowed me to use my brace which in turn enabled me to stand, walk and dance briefly with my friends Wali, Monteze and Kevin Brown and sing along to "Berta".

I'm always amazed by your delivery of anything that you perform. You're one of the reasons I'm reminded that Pittsburgh has a concentrated base of talent. Thank you my friend.

Delana Flowers thank you for the poem you gave me and for your gift of "Gratitude".

Thank you so much for sharing your talent; it is very much appreciated.

"Gator" Wali Jamal Abdullah what can I say? I love you like a brother; I owe half of any success I have to you. You're my go-to man for anything magical. You're the hardest working man in show business! I appreciate you and love you deeply, my good friend and brother.

Staycee Pearl, your dancer was amazing! Thank you for sharing! My son Marcus really enjoyed her moves. Thanks again.

Hallie Cohon Donner, your ATC young folks with your fabulous musical director on keyboards, Bridgette M. Perdue, killed the stage!

Bad to the bone! I always enjoy everything you do. Always a great performance. I must do better at getting to them. You know how it is. Keep doing what you do. You are indeed a Pittsburgh Treasure!

Ray Raymond Werner, you and your merry men were fantastic! You should go on tour. I'll be the manager! Great singing and playing! We enjoyed every minute. Thank you all!

Tony B what a surprise! Seriously my heart jumped when you entered the stage. I'm like he has no idea how much of a fan I am of his. Thank you for taking the time to unearth that monologue that I had no idea I wrote. I love you and your family man. Know that.

Lastly the earth stood still when my friend the majestic Vanessa German walked onto the stage. My friends, we are living in a magical time. Especially when the talent that was assembled could all share this stage. Vanessa, I was scared to be transported back to that frightful space that I was in, but you guided me through it with safe passage, and afterwards I felt a heavy weight lifted. Thank you for your powerful words and testimony. Your memory is running in the ninety percentile range. Unbelievable! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Angela E. Spears and Joy Southers, you're a great team and I'm blessed to have you both in my life.

Cheryl El-Walker thank you so much for making everything we do look so good! Great job making everyone look fabulous and special!

And with a great audience that included friends and supporters from different moments of our lives. We are truly grateful to all that participated both present and through thought and prayer.

And to my Facebook family. You have no idea of how important your existence has been for me. Our shared virtual world of communication has afforded me the opportunity to stay connected to LIFE in ways that are unimaginable.

And to my visitors. Thank you for making the journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your constant stream of smiling faces kept my heart afloat never allowing it once to sink into despair. It's been a long journey made less difficult by friends and family like you.

We thank God that our loving community of artist, friends and family exist, and we are grateful to be a part of such a diverse group.

Thank you and God bless.

Onward!!!!!!!

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#76 Dog Shit

(A spin off from my B.U.S. Experience)

Of course ALL lives matter but ALL lives aren't being snuffed out like BLACK LIVES. I'm livid that the brother (The Black Man) was killed by Port Authority police officers. I'm calling for ALL of Pittsburgh to boycott riding the bus until ALL of the officers that pulled triggers are FIRED!!! Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE dogs. But when do we put a dog's life above a human's? I haven't seen the movie The Revenant yet but I saw the trailers where the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio was being attacked by a bear. I'm quite sure he survived because, let's face it, he is the star of the movie and it seems to be a true story about survival.

Well, I'm sorry, if something, anything, is attacking me and I have a knife, a broken bottle or even a toe nail clipper I'm stabbing or clipping away! I remember watching the old cowboy movies with my dad where sometimes to apprehend an outlaw they'd shoot them in the leg to slow them down. They did this so that they could bring them in alive and get the reward. What happened to that type of shit? Maybe they should reward these trigger happy police for bringing suspects in ALIVE and punish them like every other non-police-officer for MURDER!

This is the second time that this has happened in recent years in our city that a police dog was stabbed to death. The first time the man was not killed, he did look heavily bruised but he's still ALIVE. (And Yes he was WHITE.) I'm just stating the facts. And speaking of this, the large funeral procession for the dog Rocco who he stabbed to death took place on the very same day of the funeral for one of my former neighbors who was shot and killed by police in a Pittsburgh suburb. Why couldn't they have shot him in the leg and then gotten him some mental help?

I'm personally having walking problems; it is really debilitating. I can't see a suspected criminal doing much at all if they can't walk, so why is it that these officers are shooting to kill? I believe it's hereditary and it's part of our culture. I worked in the steel industry for over eighteen years. And if you owned less than twenty-five guns and didn't plan on acquiring more you were a PUNK. Plain and simple.

I mean they had gun raffles at the local fire halls where they would raffle off a gun every half hour. Like:

10am - Smith and Wesson Snub Nose 38"

10:30am - Winchester rifle

11am - $50 and a case of beer

11:30am - Glock 43

Noon - A book on how to kill N#%¥*€'S!

Etc, etc...

Yes, it was that bad. These were done as fundraisers for the local sportsman clubs or the volunteer fire companies.

It's part of our American culture. Guns, guns, guns and killing. It's sad but it's true. I worked side-by-side with racist people for eons. That's one of the main reasons why I ended up walking away from an $80,000 a year job. Oh, don't get me wrong, it wasn't a victory for the racist, it was a victory for my sanity and for my family. For them to have me back in their lives untouched by hatred on a daily basis.

One of my white co-workers once told me, "Hey Mark I just hafta tell you, I didn't come up around black people, none of my family did." He said some other stuff that I can't quite recall right now, but I thought that him saying that was huge for him. Although he was one of the main people putting in action the sneaky behind-the-scenes scheming that denied me the opportunity to work overtime on a repeated basis and other get-you-fired set ups. I did admire him for at least attempting to explain to me why he didn't give a damn about me or any of his other black co-workers. At least he wasn't smiling in my face while he was doing his dirt.

Yes, I was a punk. I owned only two guns. My thinking was you can only shoot two at a time. I gave my guns away after our second son was born. I didn't want to take any chances with having two guns and two young boys under the same roof. I didn't want us to potentially end up on the 11 O'Clock News as yet another tragedy.

I will tell you however that once I was confined to a wheelchair after my accident I had no choice but to load back up. These days I'm walking much better with the assistance of a brace and a cane, however the use of a wheelchair allows me to do more and travel greater distances. So when you see me in pictures or in person in my wheelchair please don't feel sorry for me; I can walk, thank goodness, it's just that I need a break more often than others and having a chair with wheels attached to it comes in handy.

This next little rant is directed to those officers that fired their weapons at the brother being mauled by their dog and to the legions of heartless people that thought it was okay to KILL this man. If that dog and this man were dangling from the Smithfield Street bridge about to fall to their deaths into the icy-cold Monongahela and you had a choice to pull only one up to safety, who would you choose to help? And forget about strength and all that other bullshit like wind gust or homeless-people odor and what-not. To make it easier, let's just say they both weighed the same. If you choose the animal over a human's life then you may as well un-friend me now.

See, this is what's wrong with our American culture, folks. This is that part of privilege that allows folks like Donald Trump to spout off that he could walk down the street and shoot somebody and not lose votes. He's not lying, and that's the sad part. Imagine if Ben Carson had said anything remotely like that. It would have been a wrap for that soft-spoken eye-blinking candidate.

Please don't tell me that race has nothing to do with this onslaught of murder and injustice in this country.

I plan to buy a dog for the boys later this spring. Dogs have been an important part of my siblings' and my lives for over fifty years. Ginger, Duke, Nikki, Nala, Squirt and several more that we cared for for friends and family at different times including a red Doberman Pincher named Satan.

Yes, it's true, it was one of my uncles that needed us to watch him for a few weeks. I was a kid. We kept him down in the basement. I fed him from afar.

I kicked his bowl toward him and quickly scampered out of the room.

But come on, folks, to train a dog to attack humans when you can taze them or shoot them in the leg in my opinion is outdated and wrong.

I thought officers were trained in how to apprehend folks properly. In my opinion ALL LIVES do MATTER but nobody is blind to what's going on.

Everybody PLEASE Stop the violence towards BLACK MEN!

Onward!

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#77 The Beamer Situation

Our neighborhoods in Pittsburgh are rapidly changing. Gentrification has certainly hit my street. There are unheard-of things happening just blocks away from my home. Things like two white guys carrying cases of beer down the street in broad daylight. And the two white girls giggling while they skip down the middle of the street at 2am.

I never thought I'd have to be concerned about Stand Your Ground in my own hood.

My taxes have tripled, as has the value of my home. I know, I sound like the reversal of a white suburbanite back when blacks started moving into their cherished areas back in the day, but times are a-changing. They're renting single rooms with a shared bathroom for eight hundred bucks a month to Pitt students now on my street. I guess that's a deal being that dorm cost and campus living is sky high.

I had a brush with white folks many years ago in my neighborhood and I've been really ashamed to even talk about it. But I guess the pain meds that I'm now on are like a truth serum of sorts.

I know must sound like a racist. But I do have some white friends, I really do. See, even that sounds a little racist. Hey I grew up in an all-black neighborhood so I'm used to things being a certain way, but boy are things changing. I'm just speaking on the truth, reporting on the current situation. See, a lot of people are thinking these same thoughts but they're not going to open their mouths. But see, I'm not really complaining, I'm just talking about it. And I guess the more I talk the more I sound racist. So I'll just move on to the meat of the chronicle.

OK folks, it's story time. So sit back and listen to how Marky got ripped off in his own hood by two lil ole white girls.

I used to be a sucker or overly generous when letting folks use my vehicles. So it really pisses me off when people just help themselves to your vehicles without asking. Let's switch gears for a minute to set this whole story up.

Long before Home Depot came along in East Liber... wait a minute. That's no longer its name. I believe it was invaded and the conquerors renamed it "East Side". Anywho, before Home Depot the first big-box home improvement store in our area that I can remember was Hechingers.

Hechingers was located in the Forest Hills area right outside of Pittsburgh.

If you were coming from the Parkway, It was off of Ardmore Blvd, right before the skating rink, up the road on the right. As much as I loved to keep my money in the neighborhood and support Centre Builders, the lumber yard in the Hill District, it just made so much more financial sense when working on big projects to go to the big box stores. Your dollar went a lot further. Plus the supply was there. My big project was putting a long-awaited deck on the back of my house on Webster Ave at the time.

My friend handyman Walt was going to do the installation, I at the time was still in my DIY carpenter apprentice mode.

I can't remember if I was married at the time so I either had my girlfriend at the time's young four- or five-year-old son with me or my wife at the time's six-year-old son with me. Anywho Walt's van pulled up out front as I hustled to get the little guy ready. As soon as we got outside he asked for something to eat. So we hurried back inside and I grabbed him a pop-tart or something ... wait, it was a popsicle and then we rushed back out, got in the van with Walt and headed for the lumber yard.

Once there we loaded the van up with pressure-treated wood and headed back home. For some reason we came up the Webster Ave extension. As Walt turned the corner we rode past a brother sitting at the light in a familiar looking BMW. I think Walt knew the guy. He beeped his horn and the brother saw me. He said "Hey Mark, yeah your wife asked me to get some gas for the ride." I'm like "What?" Then the light changed and he pulled off. The whole thing seemed extremely odd. Having one of my "Slow" moments we headed up the street and made the turn on to the real Webster Ave with its panoramic view of Bloomfield, and then it hit me. "Wait a minute! STOP!" I yelled out. Walt slowed down. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"THAT WAS MY CAR!"

See, this was twenty-five, maybe even close to thirty, years ago. Back when I was frontin'. You know, nice car, but was eating hamburger helper on the daily and having my lights cut off every three months and my gas each and every spring. But I had my Beamer. Although it was used and had a zillion miles on it. I had my Beamer. Well, maybe not this day. Some brother had it. And now that I think of it ... I wasn't married. Because I remember when he said "Your wife asked me to get some gas for the car" it threw me off because I laughed and said to Walt, he's trippin'. I'm not married.

So Walt does an awkward u-ey, a cowboy u-turn folks, and we speed back down the Webster Ave extension with a van full of chemically soaked wood and a frightened little boy who's out of popsicles and has just experienced his first hectic u-turn.

We figure the only gas station across the Bloomfield Bridge at the time was at the foot of the bridge next to I think it was Krogers. We pull up and the car isn't there. I go in and ask them "Did a brother driving a BMW come in here?" The guy behind the counter says "Yeah, I think he mentioned something about going to the firehouse". Now why he told the guy at the gas station that I don't know, but that's all we had to go on so it was back across the bridge but we made a right onto Bigelow Blvd and headed down to Herron Ave and made a left which took us straight up to the fire station on Webster Ave. It's now a police station. Yep, no more fire stations on the Hill. Maybe we'll get one back now with all of our new neighbors. Hey, I'm just sayin'.

So we get to the fire station and there's a brother, a fireman there washing his car out back. We don't see my car anywhere. So I ask the dude, did he see a brother driving my car? He's like, "Yeah, he picked up two white girls here and went back up Webster towards your crib". I'm like "WTF!" This shit was getting crazier and crazier. So the three of us head up Webster. A million thoughts are racing through my mind. And then it dawned on me. When I was rushing to get the little guy a popsicle I left my keys in the deadbolt on the front door when I went back in for the popsicle. But leaving back out in such a hurry I failed to retrieve my keys from the front door. I guess I just pulled it shut without even looking back and hopped into Walt's van and left, all the while having happy thoughts about having a big deck on the rear of my house to enjoy the great views.

So as we come up over the rise where the street flattens out and we see my car parked back in front of my house. The brother is nowhere in sight, but... there's these two white girls sitting on the stone wall across the street from my house. So Walt and I are thinking about how we're going to handle this when all of a sudden, I bull shit you not or I kid you not ... a Scoobie Doo van pulls up full of white people. I'm not lyin'. Everybody from that cartoon was in there except for the dog! The van pulls up and these two white girls scamper over and hop in.

I'm like that's enough! I jump out of the van and head over in a rush not knowing just what the hell I'm going to do or say. I rush up on the driver's side and there's this white dude sitting in the driver's seat. I quickly reach and grab my wallet out of my back pocket.

I thrust it close to dude's face where he can't read it and I flip it open and closed real quick as I yell out "PITTSBURGH POLICE! EVERYONE OUT OF THE DAMN VAN! RIGHT NOW!"

Well I'm thinking that the statute of limitations has run out, so I might as well tell you what I said. They all hustled out of the van rather quickly, to my surprise. I looked over at Walt like, "Hey, this shit is working". I guess my stepson was like "Wow! Wait till I tell mommy her boyfriend is an undercover police man!" So they're all out of the van and here I come walking around the van doing my best pissed off black police officer in the Hill and you white kids are in trouble walk and look on my face.

I made them all line up against the fence. There were at least eight or nine of them. Looked like a bunch of hippies. I bark out, "What's going on here." I think I actually may have sounded like a southern sheriff. Well I felt like one. The leader, the one that was driving, says confidently "We're here selling magazine subscriptions in this area today". Well, now it all makes sense. That's how these two white girls got my keys. Then they must have flagged this brother down to go get gas. So I tell them to empty their pockets and set their purses down. I walk past and observe what the guys had in their pockets and then I start checking purses. I looked in one girls purse and there was my wad of one dollar bills. What? Of course it was mine, no one else carries around a wad of one dollar bills except strippers and believe me this girl wasn't no stripper, unless she was stripping for visually-impaired folks. Plus she had a couple of my cassette tapes in there as well. So there! It was her stealing ass! But I had to keep my cool..... My undercover policeman cool.

Oh, you ask, why would I have a wad of one dollar bills? Well I certainly wasn't a stripper either but I did have a nighttime hustle working in a nightclub in the men's room with the cologne set up. Wait, don't knock it until you hear that chronicle. So I guess I stared at my stolen loot and cassette tapes for a bit too long. The leader blurts out. "Sir, may I see your badge again?" See, that's that damn white privilege shit again! Can't we do anything? A brother is not gonna ever ask a white cop after he's been ordered out of a vehicle "Excuse me, Mr. White Police Officer, would you mind if I take a peek at your badge again?" That ain't gonna never happen no where. Hell the Rock wouldn't even ask that. The wrestler turned actor. Well, wrestlers are actors anyway so...

Well before I could even answer him he then yells out, "You're not a real cop! Come on, let's get out of here!" And they all jump back in the van and speed off down Orion St. And just like that it was over. I stood there drugged that I couldn't close the deal. I swear I must have nodded or winked at Mr. Walt like three or four times for him to go into my house and call the police but I guess he didn't understand head movement Morse code.

So we survey the damage of my car. The interior's a mess. The glove compartment door is ripped off. That's where my dollars were stashed. My cassette tapes are gone. It's like somebody was holding Al Jarreau, the Bar-Kays and EWF hostage. In hindsight I shoulda just reached in and grabbed their keys and casually walked over to my house and called the police. See, this was pre-mobile-phone days. But hey, with the way things are going in the neighborhood these days I'm quite sure someone might have called them for me. "Hey buddy! Hey Pal! What's going on there? Hey, you can't do that! I'm calling the authorities!"

Onward!

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#78 Deezy Creezy! Black Film Jesus!

"Zell is in Town! Zell is in Town!" Everybody is going Denzel Washington crazy in Pittsburgh! As they should.

The world's most celebrated African-American film star has touched down right here in our city. Actually right in my own neighborhood.

He's been spotted just a few short blocks from my house as he and his crew make their rounds scouting locations to film August Wilson's cherished FENCES which Mr. Wilson adapted for the screen from his brilliant stage play. The screenplay has lain dormant for several decades due to the author's demand that it be directed by an African-American director.

Fast forward to present day with actor-slash-director Denzel Washington taking the helm, joined by his Fences Broadway co-star, two-time Tony Award-winning actor Viola Davis, whom I had the extreme pleasure of working with on the film "Won't Back Down" several years ago. I actually got a chance to run a scene with her several times to warm up before Ving Rhames stepped in. Yes, I was his stand-in. They even asked me if I would shave my head. I was like "Naw, I'm not that hungry." Anywho, together Viola and Denzel will reprise their roles as the husband and wife team Troy and Rose, well, team for at least the first hour of the movie, until all hell breaks loose.

If you weren't fortunate to see our Pittsburgh Playwrights production last May then you have another chance; we're remounting it this June with George Jaber at CCAC South. I got to see it opening night last May right before my unfortunate auto accident, so I'm super-excited to get a chance to work on it again. I'll also be directing FENCES again later this summer for my good friends Rick Gore and Peter Yockel at Short North Stage Theatre in Columbus Ohio. So yes, it's the year of FENCES for me.

I got a call several years ago from August Wilson's younger brother Edwin Kittle. He wanted to know if I was interested in going to opening night of FENCES on Broadway starring Denzel Washington. I was like "Hell yeah!" So he scooped me up here in Pittsburgh and we drove up to NYC. It was a memorable trip. It was on a Monday and after a great performance we headed to the after-party where I hung out with my good friend actor Stephen McKinley Henderson who played Bono during that great run of FENCES. I met a host of celebrities including Spike Lee.

I missed Denzel though because the section I was in was packed and by the time I made my way over to where he was holding court he had already rolled out.

Fast forward several years later, I accompanied my good friend and adopted uncle, actor Anthony Chisholm to see Lorraine Hansberry's classic play "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway starring DW once again. This time The Chiz took me backstage to see our mutual friend Stephen McKinley Henderson who played Bobo and he also introduced me to Denzel. Upon meeting him I said "I can now cross this off of my bucket list". He got a chuckle out of that.

Well now, here we are a few years later and he's set up shop in the Schenley Heights area of the Hill District. I remember the first time I saw him on the big screen. It was in Carbon Copy where at the end of the film he fessed up that he was going to Veterinarian school. It was 1981, two years after I had given a shot at pre-vet at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. So I could relate ... a little. It was the first time for me to see an African-American actor take on a lead role. Not that there hadn't been actors prior to him, but in my short lifetime as a film watcher he was the first. He was good-looking, articulate and a very good actor. He was destined for greatness, and he has certainly achieved it.

So now here he is in town about to embark on a journey to bring my playwriting mentor's canon of work to life on the silver screen. I can't count the number of phone calls, emails, texts and bump-into's at various public places with folks asking me, "What's up with Denzel coming to town? Do you have the hook up?" I'm like "No, I don't have any hook up." See, I'm not going crazy about it. I've been in films. I've worked as an extra, featured extra, extra extra. It's work. You can lose your real job trying to be in a movie. It's fun at first, the excitement of being around movie stars, eating great food with the craft services. But the days are long. Really long. So yeah, I'm glad he's here making this happen but I'm not gonna go crazy about it.

I have a full plate of activities to keep me busy. But I do enjoy looking at all of the Deezy sightings on Facebook. He's like seeing Black Movie Jesus to some. "Did you see Denzel?" "I touched his jacket at the Centre Ave Shop 'n Save", "I wiped some of his sweat off of the treadmill at the Thelma Lovette Y!", "I picked up some of his salt-and-pepper hair off the floor at Big Tom's Barber Shop!"

Being Denzel must have its ups and downs but at the heart of it is a man that has more than fulfilled his quest to conquer Hollywood and now is dedicating a full ten years, which will take him into his early seventies, to produce, alongside August's widow Constanza Romero, August's complete ten-play epic Pittsburgh Century Cycle for HBO. This in itself is a noble quest!

Onward Denzel! Onward indeed!

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#79 Slow it Down

The other day I played one-on-one basketball with my eight-year-old son Marcus for the first time since my auto accident. We played on a real court with a ten foot hoop. It was a fantastic experience!

It was really great of course for the obvious: the fact that I wasn't expected to even be able to walk again. It was also great to just be standing up there with him, doing something together. It was a big step for me, much more than my lying on the couch sharing a TV remote with him, alternating between ESPN and the Cartoon Network.

I couldn't move much, very little pivoting, I couldn't go to my left at all. It was mostly my staying near the foul line, faking and eventually shooting from there. Occasionally I dribbled to my right and pulled up for a quick shot. He did all of the hustling. I can't jump at all, so there were no jumpers. I have zero jumping ability. The only reason why I scored more than him was because of experience and my height and yeah ... my ego. But more importantly I could see on his face that he was enjoying playing with his dad.

I can't begin to tell you how much that meant to me.

I don't think I ever played a single minute with my dad on the hoop court, and he played for Schenley High waaaay back in the day. I know this not because of the stories he told me but because I saw him pictured with the team in his yearbook. He stood in the back row. He was like 6' 6" and he towered over the rest of his teammates.

I never faulted him for not sharing his hoop skills. He did more than his share, sports-wise, coaching Little League Baseball for some twenty-plus years. We never thought once about him coming out into the hoop court. I had an older brother and plenty of friends and we kept ourselves busy. Our fathers worked hard and when they got home they chilled or went to their second jobs.

My dad was much too busy working 9-5 and then rehabbing properties, cutting trees down, coaching Little League Baseball, being a constable, and occasionally visiting the race track. He and my mom raised six children. He put in a hoop court when we first moved from Cherokee Street up to Rampart Street near Herron Hill Park, later to be named Robert E. Williams Park. I was eight and my older brother Rick was eleven. Along with Kendal Griggs, Kenny Carter and others, we spent every waking moment on that asphalt court playing 33. There was a four-foot cyclone fence directly behind the hoop, so many times the ball bounced over it and we took turns hustling to get the ball. To the left was a wall which was almost level to the court. I believe it was one stackable concrete slab higher than the asphalt surface; over that lip was a drop off into our sloping concrete driveway which varied from zero inches to five feet nearer the hoop.

Yes, we hustled to get the ball when it occasionally bounced down there as well. But the worst was to our right. To the right of the court was a dirt hillside which gradually sloped down at least ten feet. It was the entrance to a trail that led to the woods, which wasn't really a problem, but what was a problem was the four or five bushes guarding this hillside which grew three-inch black needles of some sort. We called them the "Sticker Bushes" and man them bad boys hurt. And occasionally we lost some good basketballs to those bushes with their sharp needles.

But it was all part of growing up. Plus playing basketball didn't cost anything. You could play all day and all night for free. Yes, the other day hooping briefly with my oldest son was fun. Earlier that day while straightening up in the basement I ran across my Dodgers 1972 First Place Uptown Little League baseball trophy. I was attempting to clean off my work table with the help of my kids. See, prior to the accident I had been stacking things up on this table or near it that were in need of repair. Vacuums, statues, trophies and other items that I have yet to unearth. Well on this day my goal was to clean off a quarter of the table. So I run across this 14" baseball trophy and it's in pretty bad shape. I mean really bad. The section above the marble base is missing and it's just really in shambles, but the memory of it is strong.

So I call my two boys over and I tell them all about it. What position I played and how we won the championship in 1972 and all. My oldest ask "Why did they let you keep the trophy?" I told him everyone on the team got a trophy and then out of nowhere they both started clapping. I have to tell you, I almost got teary-eyed. It was totally unexpected. My youngest was looking me right in my face with this look like "I'm proud of you daddy". It was the most beautiful moment I've had in quite a while. Of course he could have been thinking "OK Daddy, nice old-ass broken-up trophy. Let me clap for you to make you feel good about it so I can hurry up and get back to playing Xbox". I mean, who really knows. But it was a nice moment.

Being injured, there's multiple healings going on. Besides physical there's mental and spiritual as well. It's a daily grind to juggle all of these emotions. There are other subcategories as well. But the most obvious one is the physical because that's the one everyone can see. I've moved on from the use of a wheelchair but my mind sometimes runs out of gas and I need to pull back and just sit in a dimly lit room.

My wife hates that. She thinks that sunlight or any light for that matter is a cure-all. I get it. I know it looks pretty drab sitting in a dark room but sometimes that's just fine for me.

But standing out there on the foul line brought something back to me. It was like a return to life of sorts. It was pretty much the same as sitting on a pier holding a fishing rod waiting for a big hit, or getting behind the wheel of a new truck and driving down the Interstate.

It was a great feeling. Basketball no matter what your skill level can be a rewarding experience for most. Getting that ball to go into that hoop whether it's by the discipline of the basics or the highly skilled arching jumper or just plain ole luck, it builds confidence. And to return to it and still be able to shoot a shot and hear nothing but net, that swoosh sound that lets you know that you've sent it through the air correctly, well it's just a beautiful thing. It's like striking a golf ball correctly with your driver and watching it sail down the fairway or rolling that bowling ball down that lane knowing that as soon as you let it go it was going to be a strike.

Participating in sports can be rewarding on so many levels. Learning to play properly can give you a skill set that can last a lifetime and also help you in other areas. I'm not ashamed to say that I was never taught properly. I never attended a basketball camp or was in any programs at a young age. I did however attend Penn Hall Academy in ninth grade. I mention this because to me it seemed like a basketball school. Well at least for the black kids. I say this because I can remember being pulled out of class on occasion and being sent down to the gym to practice rebounds. I'm not joking. But wait a minute, I never signed up for this. I never signed up for anything, and I'm quite sure that my parents didn't either.

I was tall for my age. I think I was the height I am now when I was in ninth grade. I wasn't a hooper. I mean I played, I was decent but I didn't live, eat and sleep basketball. I was one of those kids that was decent at most things, but not great. I was great at catching worms. I was great at fishing.

See, I think my Mom sent me to this school on a whim. A friend of hers was sending her teenage son who was the same age as me to this private school in Plum Boro. I wasn't doing any shot-calling so off I went. A little yellow school bus picked me up every day and then we headed down Bedford Avenue and picked up basketball legends Byron Williams and Mel Keys. Now these guys were the real deal. Amazing leaping ability and silky smooth jumpers. They were so good that you didn't mind just being a fan. They were older than me and were on the varsity team. I was on JV ... Junior Varsity. I'm quite sure it was because of my height. I really never tried out, they just told me where to go and what to do.

Those times that I was sent down to the gym to practice consisted of me standing under this big metal contraption that held a basketball, and I was instructed to jump up and grab the ball, bring it back down and throw my elbows out to either side to clear away defenders. It was a rebound machine. While the other kids were in class working on their GPA I was in the gym working with my so-called basketball DNA. I didn't dare tell my parents. I didn't want to be a punk. I didn't want to let the brothers down at the school by not trying to stay on par with them skill-wise. Fox, Don Bell, Chucky Bennett. I became friends with all of these guys. It was like a special place for future hoopers. The basketball court was made out of beige rubber; I mean it looked really expensive like something out of a dream. The coach's son was good. He was this lanky white boy that could dribble and shoot and had a lot of hustle. I guess you have no choice but to be good when your dad is the coach. Hell, I was good at baseball because my dad was my coach.

Anywho it was time for our very first basketball game and they had me center of the court for jump ball. OK, no problem right? This is what I've been trained for all of those days in the gym. So the ref flicks the ball up into the air, I spring into action effortlessly outjumping my component, swatting the ball towards the coach's son who does some fancy dribbling for a white boy and moves it down court, he then quickly dishes it back to me as I turn down the lane towards the hoop, I get hacked but somehow manage to make the lay up. I go to the line and make the foul shot. Not bad huh? I've made three points already. Well, that was nice and all; an hour later at the conclusion of the game my total for the day was ... three points. I spent my time during the game running up and down the court; I did manage to grab quite a few rebounds but they didn't pass much to me. I guess I was only there for the purpose of getting the ball to them. They had me playing center but I got hacked like it was nobody's business under that hoop.

I left that school and finally got to rejoin my childhood grade school friends at Schenley High in tenth grade. Forget about being on the hoop team there; these guys were pros. I don't think they even had tryouts, the coach just went straight to Magee and Montefiore Hospital and picked the squad from the cribs. Hell, we won the State Championship that very next year. "State in 78!"

My math skills sucked for obvious reasons but it was nobody's fault but mine for not speaking up. My parents knew nothing other than they were sending me to a private school and for some reason I couldn't keep up in class. My rebounding skills however were great in pick-up games back on our asphalt court. I was skying over my brother now who was three years older than me. I played for the Saints, our local neighborhood slash church team.

We played in a league at Ozanam Cultural Center which has recently been renamed the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center. That's a sign of how old I'm getting, they keep renaming places. Our point guard was Mark Reed, he along with Dervel Reed aka "Dirt", Cayce Woodson aka "Beany", Poogey, Big Shelt, Everette, and others, we made up this team coached by Dino Newring. Like I said I wasn't great, but I got it done when I was in there. I did make the All-Star team but I think, well I'm quite sure it was because of this one game where I pulled down 28 rebounds; it was on the upper court where the pavement on the one hoop furthest away from the street kinda slopped downwards a little. So you could slam a lot easier on that hoop. Not me, just the brothers that could slam. But I could grab plenty more rebounds. Anywho my record stood for quite awhile. Yeah, it was against a team that wasn't so great but hey, that's not my fault. I still have my All-Star trophy. I really liked it because it was the first time I ever saw a trophy with a brother with a fro on it. The next time you visit Falling Rock you'll see it sitting up on the top shelf behind the bar.

So last year when my son Marcus ran up and down the court at Shadyside Boys Club, always staying just outside of the action, I figured well, he's new at this, he'll get better. But this year I needed to bring in a pro to teach him the basics. It didn't matter that I can hardly walk; I had to face it, my knees were bad before the accident, plus I'm no teacher. Other than rebounding I was never taught the basics. So I asked my friend and fellow Penn Hall Academier Don Bell to stop by and give Marcus some pointers. Don agreed and yes, it's slowly making a difference. I'm learning stuff I didn't know just by watching them. Hey, it's never too late to learn right? Of course I'll have to use my newly learnt skills on Nintendo and Wii only.

I'm actually starting to learn to enjoy my slowed-down mode. The precious time I have to spend with my children, this second chance that I have been afforded has been giving me the opportunity to have a better appreciation of life. And for that I say ... thank you God!

Onward!!!

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#80 Cause and Effect

Ordering that milkshake at Steak N Shake an hour from my destination was a big mistake. Feeding my four-year-old son an hour from our destination was definitely a huge mistake. I'm sure if my wife was with us none of this would have happened. Her simply saying "Honey, are you sure you want that milkshake?" And "Dre, you're going to have to wait until we get there to eat" or even better "Keep driving, don't pull over." Her saying any of those things would have guaranteed a much better result.

See, I was headed to Columbus Ohio to see August Wilson's Two Trains Running before it closed and this was the only day that I could go because I'm set to be a part of a discussion panel after our Saturday matinee at the Pittsburgh Playwrights, and then I have a rehearsal for a reading of The Exonerated that I'm participating in on Sunday for Prime Stage. Well, my wife had to work which took her out of town for two days and my daughter Ashley is in Rome. OK, no biggie, I'll just call my mom and see if she wouldn't mind watching the boys for the night.

No good. She's on her way out of town to attend a funeral. So what to do? There's not too many options left, especially last minute. So, I'll just take them with me. I was going to get a ride to the airport and rent a car but my good friend, sound designer Mark Whitehead, volunteered to drive me to Columbus. It's great to have good friends. So we go to scoop the boys up early from school and the lady in the office was so kind to bring them out to the car to save me from walking up all of those stairs.

So we're on the road. Columbus is close to a three-hour drive and it's basically a straight shot. Well, Dre is out like a light before we even hit the Fort Pitt Tunnels. Marcus is consumed with playing Minecraft on his iTouch and I'm sitting back just chilling, listening to some good music. Well, that's how it was in my story-telling mind. I was actually going through emails and going over Facebook posts and comments. And then Mark W says "Let's pull over and grab something to eat". I'm like "OK, but let's go in so that they can sit down and eat." I really didn't want them to eat in his new car, or even me for that matter.

So we go in and get a table; the place was packed and I BS you not, I swear I must have seen everyone in that place before on TV... at a Donald Trump rally. Yes, it was a mini Trump depot or something. Anywho, we order and the boys are coloring and putting together the toys that come with their meals. We finish eating and the waitress says, "Would you all like to order milkshakes?" Now I just had a milkshake the previous week at Burgatory. It was my first time there and that beautifully made shake tore right thru me like a nuclear torpedo, but my mind, which lives up in the penthouse of my brain far away from my digestive tract, quickly said "I'll absolutely have one." So on a whim I ordered the same kind as Whitehead: a raspberry shake with chocolate chips. Marcus had already ordered his with his meal and Andre was so consumed with coloring and eating his grilled cheese and fries with lots of ketchup we just let him be.

I crushed my shake! It was so good; my taste buds were in heaven as my digestive tract knew nothing of the party that was going on from my stomach up to my brain. But, as we all know, all good things must come to an end. So we get back in the ride for the last hour trek to Columbus. We get there rather quickly and hit a little stop-and-go traffic. I kinda didn't mention it but Lil Dre has motion sickness much like his dad. I remember during my father's funeral I had to get out of the limo three blocks from the church on the way back from the cemetery and walk. But now that I'm more a passenger than a driver I had to get used to watching the driver's feet to see when they're going to brake. It helps to keep me from getting carsick. I've actually graduated to watching their knee movement.

But Lil Dre's 4 year old mind is somewhere else; he's not trying to self medicate like that. We arrive at the theater getting lucky and finding a parking spot directly across the street. It's 30 minutes before curtain and we're pumped! And then I hear this: "Daddy, Andre has to throw up!" And like a dummy who's experienced multiple throw-ups from this lil dude I'm like "Are you sure?" And I'm looking at him and his mouth is closed and his jaws are huge like he has a big ass candy apple in his mouth without the stick! And just as I think about grabbing a cup or a Pittsburgh suitcase (Blue Giant Eagle bag) like a geyser it comes shooting out. A reddish orange Heinz ketchup cheesy blend of stomactic rebuttal!

And there's nothing I could do but watch; I mean it went on for minutes. Luckily we were parked in front of a corner store, although it wasn't actually on the corner. So let me re-phrase that. We were parked in front of a Mom and Pops store (well, in this case an Uncle and Nephew store). A foreign Uncle and Nephew store. I sent Marcus in to get a bottle of water. Mark W. stood by mumbling his final goodbyes to his new car smell as I tossed numerous napkins and paper towels into the endless puddles of reddish orange murky gook that had formed on his white leather rear seats.

Mark W. and Marcus went into the theatre to save our seats while I spent another twenty minutes cleaning up Andre and the car. A homeless man approached us but quickly turned away upon seeing and smelling our dilemma. Andre's Sean Jean shirt and book bag were drenched. I decided in order to save time to leave them under the car until after the show (which we totally forgot about). I went back into the store and bought some baby wipes. I think I did an excellent job cleaning up what looked like an Oompa Loompa murder scene.

Yes, I did indeed do a fantastic job getting rid of all of the nasty evidence, however that new car smell was now a thing of the past. Andre and I made our way into the theater and sat in our seats in the second row of six in the small black box intimate theater. Andre sat on my friend Bryant's wife Rachel's lap. I'm sure he was offending their noses. Well, actually I figured that out when Bryant went to his car during intermission to get a spray bottle of Febreze.

But when the play first started no sooner than the actors started rolling Marcus looks back at me and says "Daddy I gotta go to the bathroom." I'm like, "You're going to have to wait till intermission" because you have to practically walk across the stage to go to the bathrooms. Plus I'm the Artistic Director of this whole thing and I didn't want to mess up their show. So I'm sitting there and my stomach sends out a little distress signal. I know that signal. It's the precursor to .... The Gurglies! I'm look OH NO! Not the Gurglies!!! But I figure it's not going to be that bad; I'll use my Vulcan mind control to suppress it. It works and everything seems calm, but then it starts up again.

This time it's a little more violent. It subsides once more and everything is calm. Because I know the play so well I lean over and whisper to Marcus "You can go during the scene change but stay off to the side and watch until intermission." I should have gone with him, because no sooner than the lights came back up on the next scene the rumbling in my stomach started again. I couldn't get up and hobble across the stage, it would be terrible, since I'm the Artistic Director of this event. But wait a minute — the director who made the introduction at the top of the play failed to introduce me, so the audience wouldn't have a clue as to who would be making their way across the stage like that hilarious commercial depicting the pink intestine running to the bathroom. But the actors would, and therein lies the problem. I couldn't do that to these guys. I couldn't do that to my mentor's work being performed.

I held my stomach and thought of the worst outcome. Then I heard a noise; I looked back towards the back of the audience and there was Marcus with his head just above the last riser. A patron had gotten up to assist him through the railing. I quickly waved him off. It would be too much of a distraction. I gave Marcus hand signals to stay put. I turned back around and watched the play. I tried to remember the second scene as best I could; I knew that once the actor playing West entered that it was near the end, but I couldn't quite remember if it was right after he exited. I waited for his last line to the owner of the diner Memphis, something about "We can go down to the bank." I could hear Eugene Lee's voice in my head from watching four straight weeks of performances during our Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre's production.

West left and the play continued to roll on. Sterling entered selling watches and my stomach reacted as if I had lied to it. I looked back towards the rear of the risers this time with thoughts of my escape through the black-painted two by fours. My mind panicked as I sought an escape. Suddenly the lights went down and I made my way to the "Porcelain Palace." I attempted to close the door ever so quietly but an older gentleman was right on my heels, I guess I must have thought I was at my own theater so I stepped aside and allowed him to use the only stall first. He thanked me and scampered into it. I stood there waiting, profusely apologizing to my stomach and intestines and to my anus, which I'm quite sure resembled my lil son's jaws less than an hour ago. This man's urine stream seemed like an unending prayer at an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner in the snow. It went on and on occasionally interrupted by short micro breaks. I'm thinking he was finally unloading from his St. Paddy's intake.

As I started to put in motion my ridiculous thought of using that high toilet that had a faucet attached to it, he exited the stall. He thanked me as I casually strolled past him. I was deep into my Vulcan mind-meld mode as I approached the most beautiful thing in the world. I sat down on my temporary throne and I was in ... Heaven.

All I can say is, Onward! .... and Downward!

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#81 "She don't wanna be Saved!"

I wasn't going to write about this but I feel I really need to. There's this girl, well young ... I can't even say lady because she's a thief, and ladies don't steal. So I'll just call her a twenty-one-year-old female thief.

It all started out much like Chronicle #77 - The Beamer Situation, in front of my house on Webster Ave in the Hill District. But fast forward to present day, so it would now be my former home. Lately I've tried to insert some level of humor into my chronicles; however this one I'm quite sure will be humorless.

Let me just get this little rant out of the way first. There's some pretty F'd up people in the world. And it's on all levels of class and income. Yeah, we all know this, right? The police don't want all crime to go away, because then they wouldn't have a job. Doctors don't want everybody to be healthy because then they wouldn't be able to make a living also. If you really think about it they're practicing at what they do. Hell, that's what they call it. "A practice." Lawyers as well. See, the criminal and health systems are all about making money and funding pensions. Plain and simple.

Don't get me wrong; yes, at the onset the police and doctors are called for help which they provide when there's an initial problem, but after that, after it gets into the system, then it's bogged down by red tape and a series of procedures which is the beginning of people making money from all different angles. Lawyers, drug manufacturers, D.A's office, doctors' assistants, television and phone rentals, everyone connected to these professions.

I say all of this to say that I've been observing both of these systems lately. I've stuck my toe in those murky waters and believe me they are very contaminated. If you're a victim then by all means you will remain a victim until every level of B.S. has been examined. And sometimes that can be years.

The young criminal that I mentioned earlier began her assault on me early one day a few weeks ago. My wife, the boys and I were parked out in front of my former home on Webster Ave which is now a rental property. I had just finished talking to a friend and was about to leave to head downtown when I received a phone call from a bank manager from a bank somewhere up the Monongahela River. She stated that a young lady had been there saying that she worked for me. This bank manager said she tried to call me on a different number because the young lady seemed suspicious. She went on to say that she went ahead and cashed the check anyway and that the young lady left. I informed her that there was no such person that worked for me, but it was too late. The thief had gotten away with well over $500.

What to do, right? She said she would turn it over to their fraud department and I went on my way. A few minutes later as I approach Bigelow Blvd I get another phone call from another branch where they knew me and this bank was much closer. This time the branch manager was whispering to me telling me that there was a suspicious woman there attempting to cash a check for over $500. I said "Call the Police! I'll be right out!" Sitting at the light at Herron and Bigelow I negotiated to get into the right lane and then I was on my way. As I approached the bank I noticed a police cruiser directly behind me. I pulled over to let them pass. I pull up in front of the bank and get out. My daughter Ashley is on the case with me. I notice that there's a car parked right out front with its engine running. There's a middle aged woman driving and a toddler in a car seat in the rear. I immediately instruct my daughter to take a picture of the car and the license plate. She does so and then we both enter the bank.

Upon entering, the bank's gunless cop says hello and nods her head towards the long line in the bank. See, the tellers have been instructed to slow everything down and use their stall tactics. Pretty much like that sloth on the trailer for Zootopia. (In a super slow voice) "Yes Mrs Jenkins you want a money order for how much? Three dollars and forty two cents? Okay, hey Pamela, Mrs Jenkins would like a money order for three dollars and forty two cents. Mrs Jenkins was that Three dollars and forty three cents or three dollars and forty two cents? Forty two cents. Okay. Maybe I should write that down. That's three dollars and forty two cents. Are you sure?" I'm sure it was pretty much like that because this thieving chick was pissed that it was taking so long to cash her fake check. I heard afterward that several customers left to use the MAC machine outside, but not her, and for good reason. You can't run a game on a machine without proper I.D or information.

So the young police officer approaches this thief and asked her to step out of the line. And she's playing dumb like "What did I do?, I'm just trying to cash my payroll check."

The police officer asks her "Where do you work?" She's like "I work for a theater company". He ask her what's the name of the theatre company. She's like "The Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Play, play ... ". I can't take it anymore. If there's one thing I cannot stand it's a thief. Secondly I cannot stand a liar. She is both at this moment. Then the inner pissed-off me erupts. I unleash a series of F Bombs and other words that I am not proud of. I can't remember them all, you would have to roll back the bank's surveillance video or asked anyone in an earshot's distance, including possibly folks in Home Depot's parking lot. I do remember challenging her to spell "Play". All I could think about in my head was a female Levee character version from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom shouting back at me. "I can spell it!" Well go ahead and spell it then! "P - L - A .... E! There P L A E! I done spelledid dit!"

My apologies if it seems that I'm attempting to make fun of this young L ... Lying person, but after I replay the whole court appearance BS you'll be fine with it I'm sure. Anywho I was asked to calm down and go into the bank manager's office and have a seat.

Several more police officers showed up and for the first time in quite awhile I actually had a calming feeling that they were on my side. So the bank manager shows me the check. And it's a little larger than our Pittsburgh Playwrights checks but it looks real, except my signature is nowhere near the signature line and there's nothing in the memo at all. What should both be red flags for any competent bank employee, right? But obviously not the one up the river, and I found out another one was cashed for over $500 at a Penn Hills branch by some dude with a strange not so American name. Which makes me think the Russians are behind this.

They think that these checks were made on a computer. They looked really authentic except for where they dropped my copied signature and like I said there was no memo. Even the check numbers were close. I'm thinking that either someone got a hold of somebody's recent check or someone in the banking industry could have leaked out a cashed check or someone even could have had a fake front attached to a MAC machine where someone deposited one of our checks. Who knows? I'm sure this falls directly under identity theft, so folks beware! The bad people are out there and they don't sleep.

So fast forward three weeks and now we're in court downtown right next to the County Inn which boasts a whopping 2,869 beds. That be the County Jail. So I go into the little building to its right, and to my surprise my new body with all of its added supports, screws, rods and pins fails to set off the metal detector. Well, that's nice. The woman in charge tells me that my metal implants are more than likely titanium. Now I can reimagine my return to our airports.

I go into the courtroom and it's just like in the movies. People in street clothes that are obviously the victims and possibly petty thieves. A host of attorneys both young and old with clothes that do not fit, police officers that seem to all have been through this before and a judge who looks like he just stepped off of his golf cart to handle a few cases before heading out to the back nine.

In strolls our star thief an hour late with her mom who has a thing for brothers I guess. She has a strong resemblance to the "Get-away driver". I guess they found a babysitter. Now it's several weeks, mind you, after the initial rip-off and I'm not as irate as I was before; however I must represent so that she learns a lesson, right? But it is so much an inconvenience to go through all of this and then come to find out that the most she'll get is a slap on the wrist. And that's exactly what happened.

It didn't matter that she had been arrested five times before. Nothing had ever stuck. One police officer told me he tackled her running out of a bank last year. How can this be that she's still out here stealing from people and institutions? She was clueless about right and wrong as she sat a few rows in front of me applying lip gloss and rubbing lotion on her hands and wrist.

And soon thereafter she and her accomplice Mom, who drove her to no less than eight banks to cash fake checks, calmly strolled out of the courtroom mumbling to themselves something about going to the mall to snatch up a few things I'm sure. Five finger discount no doubt.

Well, at least the baby doesn't have to be an accessory this time, that is unless they left her in the car all this time.

All I can do is bitch about it because there is rarely justice, but more importantly things are really bad for people out there, and the sad thing is that it's never going to end. My wife and I just try to raise the best citizens that we can under our own roof. Pass down the good things that were passed on to us by our parents and grandparents as well as things we've learned along the way. Besides what their mother and I have instilled in them I tell Ashley and our boys to practice three things every day in school and I ask them to repeat them to me before they leave for school each morning.

They are #1 - Be kind, #2 - Learn something and #3 - Don't let anyone put their hands on them. I don't have all of the answers, I'm practicing at this you know.

Onward!

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#82 Drugged

Being on drugs and being all by yourself and unable to move is a trip. It's the worst experience I've ever had in my life. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Your mind is precious and once it's invaded there are no boundaries to where it can take you. For some folks that can be a good thing, but for me lying up in that hospital bed it was certainly bad.

These days after I go through the ritual of assembling my meds like an assembly line of sorts, I just sit and look at them. Yeah, I have those plastic compartmental doohickeys that you get from CVS where you place each day's dosages into their very own little squares labeled Monday thru Sunday. I have two, but I don't use them. They still have the shrunken plastic on them. Perhaps that will help them sell much quicker at the flea market once I emerge at the other end of the tunnel. I guess i never opened them because in my mind I never planned on being on pills for more than a week. I'm just inside a little less than three weeks away from my one year anniversary of that fateful day, but it's still just a bad dream to me. A very bad dream. A daydream and a nightmare all wrapped into one living hell.

Sometimes after I've finished collecting all of my pills, I sit there very still contemplating whether I should commit them to my body, somehow hoping that God will step in and stop the madness one way or another.

I guess I take a moment to just be still and think, sometimes up to an hour or more. Sometimes I get distracted and remember many hours later when my back starts to get tight or my crankiness rises up and out of me that I have forgotten to medicate myself. It's only then that I relinquish my freedom from the pills and return to being a conformer.

It's not a good feeling being in this predicament. Those around you seem to think that sunshine or a shrink is a cure-all. Most times I'd rather just sit in a dimly lit room and let my body heal. Yeah I'll take a hug and a prayer every once in a while but I do enjoy the peacefulness of my dark space and the soft air of jazz.

I thought about getting a tee shirt printed saying "Please don't pat me on my back! I got really fucked up in a car accident! A gentle hug will do just fine."

Or maybe just a hat that says "No pats on the back please!" You'd be surprised by how many people that see me out in public come up and pat me aggressively hard on my back like I just got off the bench and back into the game of life. These folks obviously have not visited me in one of the four hospitals or rehab centers that I was in or have read any of my early chronicles. Don't get me wrong; I'm certainly not holding that against anybody, hell, who have I visited?

Anywho I'm saying all of this because it hurts like a M-f'er getting slapped on my back or squeezed very hard. I know I was on the brink of death but can't we just shake hands and just smile at one another? Those two titanium rods in my back are still getting used to their surroundings. Please let's just let them have a little more time to bond with my damaged spine.

I guess when I'm sitting there staring at that little amber prescription bottle that I've turned into my medicine dispenser, I guess I'm just really drugged that this all happened to me. Not mad or angry ... just drugged. Not really super drugged ... just drugged.

(Drugged = disappointed or in disbelief)

Sometimes to help alleviate the mental anguish I think about all of the former physical pains I endured that no longer have a grip on me. My left leg for sure. It doesn't hurt at all. I just can't bend it past 84 degrees, which is an issue because it prevents me from riding a bike. I vaguely remember having a major stomach pain, well actually, in my waist area just below my stomach, where they operated on my hip. See, my left leg got pushed up from the impact. My tibia was shattered and my upper part of my leg pushed through my hip socket pulverizing it. I now have two big-ass bolts with washers in the left side of my hip. One keeps my hip intact and the other one attaches my hip to my tail bone. They made sort of a Caesarian-like incision right in my waistline. And during the healing process it felt like I had a thick metal belt sewn into my skin. It was a horrible feeling. It was from them cutting through muscle and all the scar tissue that resulted from it that made it feel that way. I actually had forgotten all about it until the other day when I overdid it walking to and from the ball park for my son's baseball game.

The sensation of that metal waistband returned briefly. It was not only the feeling of a metal belt sewn into me but an ever-tightening flesh belt.

Had I not experienced this after that long slow walk I believe I could have possibly forgotten about that uneasy experience altogether. I certainly can't see the scar. Especially since my full pre-accident weight has returned. I have what we used to call the "Dunlap disease" in a phrase it would be described like "My belly done lapped over my belt buckle".

Sometimes when you're recovering from something, anything that has been life-altering, and it visibly shows, sometimes you feel invisible. Like people avoid you. It may be that they don't know what to say. They're not alienating you on purpose, it's just that subconsciously they know that you're fragile and they want to give you your space. Or maybe they don't want to say the wrong thing to you and upset you. So they choose to avoid you.

I was feeling really down a few weeks ago, I mean really down. It was spurred on by someone that I thought was a friend. They texted me something that was very upsetting. So I sunk deeper and deeper into despair. But I eventually emerged. This was after I did something uncharacteristic of myself. I set out on a course that started with my unfriending a good bit of marginal folks from my Facebook family. People who never hit "like" once for any of your posts or chime in or just come across as plain ole phony. I then moved on to my contact list on my phone and did pretty much the same. I tell you it was Vicodinist! My whole mood gradually changed and I felt as though that FB purge gave me room to usher in potentially new and possibly more genuine friends.

But sometimes I feel like maybe I should "Just do as the doctor says" and just take what painkillers I've been prescribed. The full dose. I've been personally modifying my intake so as not to become addicted to them and to also give my organs a break from that toxic environment. But I'm thinking maybe I ought to stay the course for the sake of not being in pain. For the sake of being happy. For the sake of being enjoyable to be around.... It's not easy folks. In the wake of this ordeal, sometimes just existing is a chore.

This whole thing is really drugging in more ways than one. I don't want my final days to be this way. Dependent on pain killers to get through each and every day. But I know that I'm healing. Healing from a horrific crash that could have easily ended in death. And it takes time. I am thankful that I'm still here to live. To enjoy these precious days with my family and friends. Hopefully some day soon I can put these amber bottles behind me and make it through the day on a more healthy note.

Onward!

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#83 Happy Resurrection Day!

I attended the funeral of a good friend's mother the day before Easter. It was a gorgeous day in Braddock. Much like the beautiful day we laid August Wilson to rest some eleven years ago. My, how time flies. It was sunny this day with big white slow-moving puffy clouds. As I sat across the street from the church waiting for my mother and daughter to emerge I was approached by two young boys. They walked right up to my mom's car which I was driving and attempted to hand me something. The tall boy reached towards me and the little one stood back off to his side wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask and holding a pair of nunchucks in a fighting stance.

I was like "What? What's going on here?" I said this to myself. What I actually said to them was "What's happening young brothers?" The tall one handed me three plastic Easter eggs with candy inside. He said "Happy Easter sir!" ....... Yes, I was caught off guard. I was surprised. And all at once I felt guilty that, yes, I too had been caught up in what the masses of our society think when two black boys approach you. I'm writing about this because I was ashamed of myself for automatically thinking negative thoughts as opposed to positive. Even if it was only for a few seconds it's a negative trend that has a grip on our subconscious that needs to be broken.

These young men were doing something positive. I know it's not six or eleven o'clock newsworthy but it's something that I must report. I have no problem at all with falling down on my sword and fessing up that I viewed their approach with suspicion. My actions, although brief and internal only, were just above those who would have locked their car door. I could use the excuse that because I am somewhat handicapped that I was fearful because I couldn't defend myself, but you see that all would be bullshit in the grand scheme of things. The same holds true for those that say "What if they would have carjacked you?" It's bullshit, friends.

What it is, is "fear" plain and simple. It's brought on by the combined effect of watching the daily and nightly news with the images of would-be dark criminals permeating our minds. Of course there are also occasional images of Caucasian would-be criminals, but only the dark-skinned ones stick in our minds because of how they are portrayed. That alone gives them a "by" in our minds. We usually hear things like "They were mentally unstable" or "The kid was from a problem home". But the really light-skinned ones are never deemed a thug or have their troubled backgrounds displayed whether they're charged with a major crime or not.

It's like African-American would-be criminals' info is reported on a greater level to help convict them early on in the public's subconscious. It's so embedded into a large majority of our minds. Much like our black children believing that Santa is white and white means good or young black girls choosing the white baby doll over the black one to play with. I sat there in the car kicking myself because my subconscious had let me down. Perhaps I should volunteer to help out at the Omega's Carter G. Woodson Saturday morning young men's Academy so that I can listen in and get my mind right. Get my conscious on the right path.

My fear, folks, is that my four- and eight-year-old sons will still be dealing with this same type of crap when they're my age. I'm afraid that long after I'm gone our society will still suffer from the effects of slavery. In its aftermath things will continue to slowly evolve. The pace is too slow friends. We all have been brainwashed and the undoing ain't happening fast enough. What to do?

I think what most folks don't understand is that the effects of racism are always on the minds of people of color. Usually a good part of the day. Whether you're out in public, on social media or at home watching TV. And it doesn't matter much what your status is, whether they want to admit it or not it is a constant presence.

This whole "passing out the eggs" thing all happened on the eve of Christ's Resurrection and unfortunately near the height of the Wendy Bell debacle. My sincere apology for having her name in the same sentence as Christ. It just happened that way, but I could only imagine what her take on this would be.

"These young black boys are going to make it!"

You see, our city was in the grip of yet another "racial clash of thoughts" brought out into the light because a public figure broke the cardinal rule of professional journalism by speaking her mind. And then it all went downhill from there culminating with her being dismissed from her place of employment. But it wasn't over yet. People took up both sides of the debate much like the Pittsburgh Steelers' signing of Michael Vick. But this time it was sympathizers of her profession vs folks who wanted those reparation points.

My personal opinion is that at the very least we should respect each other's opinions regardless of whether they agree with our own thoughts or not.

But back to the situation at hand. I know that others on that steep Braddock street responded pretty much the same as I had because I witnessed those same two boys approach several other individuals and they all reacted pretty much the same as I had with speculation and reservation. One guy even refused to accept the eggs and then nervously looked around to see if anyone had witnessed his rebuking of the little purple, orange and yellow plastic egg gifts.

If I had to draw a mental sketch of these two young boys, I would simply say that they came from loving families. That's it.

"Mama ain't raise no fool".

I was so moved by what they were doing. When I flagged them down to ask them to come back so that I could take a photo of them I thanked them again for their gift. I mean I genuinely did. Their gift was more than a few plastic eggs with starbursts and little melting chocolate bunnies inside.

Their gift was a wake up call for my insecurities. I can still see the image of Lawrence Fishburn yelling "Wake upppp!" at the end of Spike Lee's film "School Daze".

Sometimes I rely on my "Dumbness" to protect me from the cruelties of the world.

But I have to wake up from that shit. You see now that I'm in this crash aftermath, a second chance if you will.

I can see clearly now that the race of life has been slowed down considerably. It's like at the end of the Sixth Sense movie when everything comes together and makes sense. I study things more closely now and guess what? I'm not afraid to die. Isn't that something? Not that I've given up on life or don't care to be here anymore, it's just that that fear is gone. I mean it is out of my mind. My main goal is to enjoy life each and every day. And to make sure that my family does as well. Hell, you might see me and my kids passing out Easter eggs next spring.

Onward!

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#84 Angel & devil in the same space

Every once in awhile when you least expect it, out of nowhere something amazing happens in your life.

A series of circumstances transpire that put you in the same vicinity as someone else and you connect. Some people meet someone that can make a difference in their lives. Well, let me tell you what happened to me the other day. I needed to go to the bank to take care of an urgent matter. It was rush hour and this particular bank happened to close at 5pm. It's 20 minutes to five so I head out with my wife and daughter and we're headed down towards Centre Ave but traffic is back all the way up the hill towards the VA. So I sit there on Brynmawr Rd and nothing moves. I now have about twelve minutes to get to the bank. It's not looking good, so I turn around and decide to scrap the bank idea and instead we go back up the hill to pick up the boys.

My wife mentions to me that she thinks that there's a bank branch that is open until 6pm. At this point I'm done in my mind about going to the back. Especially after seeing all of that traffic. We pick up Marcus from Grace Church and then head to their satellite facility on Ewart Drive to pick up Andre. Once she's inside the building the idea of the other branch still being open and the fact that I do really need to make this transaction starts to play on my mind.

I make a call and find out that indeed there is an office close by that does stay open until 6pm. So once they return we embark on our bank journey once again. The traffic is still congested; however, there is some movement. Much more than our last trip down the hill. I pull into the line and amazingly it starts to lighten up considerably. So we're back in action, so much that we even have time to go to the gas station.

Now back in the day, well last year prior to May 11th I would have driven straight to the bank. That's because I knew the limitations to my "Whip", my "Ride", uh my ... "Personal vehicle". You know how you know just how much gas you still have when you're on E or even when the light comes on? You know your limit, what you can get away with. Well, I no longer have that ability because my truck was TOTALED! Anywho, not on this day. I'm driving my wife's ride and she is telling me every five seconds "We need gas . . . . . We need gas . . . . . We need gas". Okay, I exaggerated. But it felt that way. It may have been every three minutes. But the story here is that I must comply. It's her ride and when I stare at her dashboard it is foreign to me so I don't want to challenge it or her for that matter.

So we make our way to GetGo, and besides, they have good fresh donuts.

Nowadays when I go out, I try to make it just one good trip. Not a bunch of in and outs of the car. See, when I'm sitting in a chair, lying down or in this case driving, I can temporarily forget about my injuries. But as soon as I go to get up or get out of the car the reality of my injuries all comes rushing back when I attempt to walk like a normal person. So I ask my wife to show our eight-year-old son Marcus how to pump gas. Now I've showed him this in the past, but not too much hands-on experience. But now he has to step it up because his Pops is a little debilitated right through here and we can't have the ladies doing it. Breaking their nails and smelling like petro and all. We don't want that.

We get the gas and roll. No time for donuts, gotta get to the bank. We pull up to the bank and Marcus and I get out, backing up traffic in the process because I didn't want to make that long journey from the parking lot which had a road dividing it from the bank. We get inside the bank and there's this long line. Like nine or more people. But it's cool and I expected it to be long being that it's like 5:40pm.

So we're standing there and a brother on crutches comes in and stands really close to me. We say what's up to each other like brothers do. And we just stand there. A minute or so later he says "Mark, how are you holding up?"

I turn around and say I'm taking it one day at a time, good brother. He's so close to me that I can't make out who he is. I step back a little and I can see that he looks familiar but I can't remember his name. I'm mad at myself because I can't remember his name. Especially because he knows mine. But we continue to talk and then I just say "Excuse me but what's your name again?" He tells me and yep, I remember him right away. He used to work at our local church. I would say my church but I haven't been a regular since the late eighties. But I do remember him while my daughter was in their afterschool program many years ago. I apologize and we continue to talk. I look down and now notice that he has a leg missing. But I don't dare ask what happened.

As we talk about what's going on with me I start back peddling about my injuries being that he has a leg missing.

My inner voice is telling me to shut the hell up. So I bring my conversation about my little ole injured foot and aching back and such to a screeching halt. I'm like "So what's going on with you?" Then his wife walks in. I recognize her and we hug. She says that she's been following my progress and it's great to see me out in public. The line is moving along and we're getting closer to the tellers. Marcus is consumed with his video game. We three adults continue to talk and then suddenly it's my turn. The teller invites me up, another teller station opens up and he and his wife are invited up as well.

So we're standing there doing our bank business. Soon his finishes before me and they start to head out. I tell them goodbye and as he passes me he turns around and in a surreal moment he says "God has his eye on you. He's waiting for you to work on your faith with him".

It was something like that. I ask him and his wife would they mind praying with my wife & children and myself. They agree and say that they will be waiting outside.

Angel.

I felt the presence of an Angel right then and there. I immediately texted my wife.

Gonna pray with a couple when I come out.

What? Who?

A couple that used to work at Grace Church.

Okay.

I finished my banking and excitedly started to exit with Marcus. As we went to exit there was a person that I knew in the vestibule using the MAC machine. There was a woman standing by waiting. There were two machines so I guess she was with him. Time slowed down considerably. This is a person who has attempted to torment my wife and me for several years. Someone who has rolled into our town in a dark cloud. Someone who has been for lack of a better work an Ass Hole. I'm sorry but he is. A major one.

Devil.

But I say hello. It's the Christian thing to do. He begrudgingly nods his head and mutters some sort of acknowledgment. Probably because he has a Caucasian female with him and doesn't want to appear to be a rude person.

I'm sorry to be so frank, but these are the chronicles where "Frankness" is the norm.

He leans over and throws his receipt into the trash and they exit. It seems like he is holding the door for me as I limp towards it holding on to my cane but he gently lets it go once his friend walks a little ahead of him. No problem my son Marcus quickly catches it, he holds it open for his dad and we exit the bank. I watch this couple march up the street and I'm about to reminisce about his evil ways and I'm debating whether or not I should tell my wife that I saw him and bring that evil stuff her way but then I turn the corner and I see the couple sitting on the wall waiting for us.

Angels.

I call my wife to see where she parked. We arrange to meet in the parking lot directly across from the bank. We all head over and she pulls up. We all introduce ourselves to each other and then we form a circle and hold hands.

The Couple and my Wife, Ashley and the Boys. The man begins to tell us his story. He's been a minister for quite awhile, well over fifteen years. He attended the seminary and has been working in a local community spreading the gospel. He goes on to tell us that he lost his leg to cancer last year. That he put down his pain killers and followed God's instructions to pray the entire night on it. And in the morning he was able to walk away from them. He said it wasn't easy but he did it. He said that at three AM he asked God, was that enough? And God told him to stay at it. But in the morning, he was able to get up off the floor and walk away.

I can't tell you how much his testimony touched me. I can't tell you how powerful of a moment that was to be standing there with my entire family out in a parking lot holding hands with these Angels while the devil was nearby. I look down and I see my leg. I have no reason to ever be down. This young man lost his leg, but he didn't lose his faith.

So many times we look to blame someone or something on our misery, and it's hard not to. But the strength comes from within. I'm still learning that. I'm trying folks. I'm staying on my grind. Believe me, it ain't easy. Nothing in this world is. I thank God for not giving up on me and for populating this earth with Angels.

Onward!

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#85 Black & White

During my recovery process I'm learning that a change has occurred within me where I pay more attention to the little things in life. Things that I would normally dismiss because I was so busy multitasking and trying to squeeze every bit that I could out of each minute of every day.

So my chronicles have shifted to discussing situations that I find myself observing or that I'm a direct part of. These situations and how I react are definitely a part of my new growth. So today I'm going to tell you firsthand how shit is really fucked up in our world. This story however starts out rather nice.

The other day I went to a magic show. Not as a patron, but to help out with the box office. It was taking place in my theater and I had promised the magician that I would give him a hand. It was a two-day event. So Friday night I get there and set up shop. He doesn't have actual tickets, so I decide to use some of our excess tickets from my play that just closed after a four-week run. These tickets say admit one and they have a photo of John reluctantly dancing with Miss Julie while Clarissa watches from a distance. Now John is Black, Clarissa is Black and Miss Julie is White. No big deal, right?

OK, so I pass out these tickets to people so that they'll have something tangible. I occasionally let people know that these tickets are from a different play but that I wanted them to have something to gain entry. Now the show is about to begin and my daughter and two young boys go in to watch it. Eventually my wife and I also go in and watch a good bit of the show. The show runs about 80 minutes and everyone exits. I make plans with the magician to return the next day to help out with his 11 am children's matinee.

OK, I get there at 10 am and set up shop. I grab a fresh batch of Miss Julie, Clarissa and John tickets and I await the patrons. Now I should mention that my eight-year-old son went to baseball practice with his uncle and cousin, my wife is on a two day trip, so she's out of town and my daughter Ashley is with her mom this day. So it's just my four-year-old Andre, who by the way will be five in May. It's just he and I. I'm behind the concession stand ready to work the box office and Andre is in the lobby having fun with several helium balloons that he found throughout the lobby floating up against the ceiling.

They have nylon strings just long enough for him to reach. There's a silver one, a purple one, a white one and one that says Princess on it. They were left over from a baby shower that took place a week prior. I barely noticed them the night before but now they're more visible in an empty lobby. Andre sure noticed them. He grabbed them and pulled them down to his height and squeezed them and punched at them and watched them float back up to the ceiling.

I do some straightening up and then I hear Andre's faint voice calling me. Come to find out that he has decided to make a pillow fort out in the lobby with the dozen or so pillows that are on the benches.

Mom aka "The Boss" is out of town so I pretty much let him do things like that. It's part of my Father and Son bonding initiative, so I can gain ground on Mom because I wasn't afforded the opportunity to gain bonding points early in his life by breastfeeding him like she did. Plus when he's sleepy he prefers napping on her soft supple pillows as opposed to my hard flat chest.

Anywho, the dads out there will understand. So he's so excited about his fort and he wants me to come see it. I go around and take a look at it. He's lying on the inside and he sticks his arm out of it and says "Can you see my hand daddy?" I'm like "Yes I see it" and I reach down and tickle his fingers and he giggles. We were having a fun moment but then the elevator pops opens and now here comes our first family. Time to go to work.

The Grandmother was on crutches and the father was tatted up. More like a veteran of sorts. The little girl was about six or seven and was dressed like a princess complete with a small plastic jewel-encrusted silver crown. Well, before long she and my son were playing. They started out with his fort, then they moved on to the balloons. I suggested to Andre that he give her the one that had princess on it. Because it made sense, since she had on a princess outfit. Then he brought the other three over to me to untangle.

I finally got them untangled. Now which one do I hand him? The silver, the purple or the white? He couldn't reach them so one by one I added an extra piece of string that was left over from untangling them. Now which one would you hand your four-year-old African American son to go play with the little Caucasian girl? See, that's the problem. Why should it even be a discussion? This is where we start guiding our children. In hindsight, it should have been his choice but for some reason I gave him the silver balloon first and he took off to go play with her.

I sat there in disbelief that all of that stuff was going through my mind. I wondered why it was important to me for some reason in my subconscious to decide what color balloon I would give to him. If I dare to challenge my subconscious in the form of questions it would go like this. "Why not the white ballon? Because I don't want him to identify with white being dominant? Why not the purple balloon? Because it might come across too strong and cause fear to these white folks? Why silver? Because it's safe?" I know this all seems crazy, right? But this is the type of stuff that happens everyday in our lives that keeps us suspended in this perpetual world of racial polarization. It's constant in our world and it continues to be a destructive cancer.

Before long Andre came back to retrieve the other two balloons and then they were off to the races. The little girl referred to the what I thought was grandma as "Mom" so there perception betrayed me yet again. It happens, I'm far from perfect. So her parents look on as they run and laugh and tug on each other's balloons. Another family enters but after purchasing their tickets elect to all use the restrooms. Now Andre and the girl have moved on to playing hide and seek. With each round they moved further and further away from the lobby area until I had to tell the little girl that she can't hide behind the concession stand. There's a wall blocking my view of the front section of the lobby. It's about a sixteen by sixteen foot section that includes the front windows and a few large round tables.

I could see a look of concern from the father. As they continued to play in the lobby another family entered, bought their tickets and sat in the lobby. Then another family and another. So now the lobby is starting to fill up. The magician stopped out to see how things were progressing. Then another family enters. This time a young couple and their two daughters. You should know that my son Andre and I are the only African Americans in the entire place. I hand the father four tickets (the ones that I spoke of earlier which have a photo of my play Miss Julie, Clarissa and John on them). The father hesitates and then says, "We're not going to see this, are we?" I explain to him that no, I'm just using these tickets because the magician didn't have any. He then says, "OK, because we're not into this." Immediately his wife seems embarrassed by his words. She attempts to calm him, I guess. I sat there at the booth after they left wondering just what was going through these white men's minds.

I looked at one of the tickets. In the photo you see the back of Miss Julie. Her hair is blond, but at no time do you see her skin. She has on a very nice dress and John is dressed in a decent outfit but he still looks like a well dressed servant. But Clarissa is certainly dressed like a servant. And I guess with the log cabin look, one could certainly put together what was going on in this picture.

So I'm sitting there and I'm starting to have a really bad taste in my mouth for even being there. I want to take my son and go home. Because I've been brainwashed in this society I try to give that guy the benefit of the doubt. Hey he's entitled to not want his daughters to see a black man dancing with a white woman. And I'm quite sure that the father that was here first is a little uneasy about his little white princess playing hide and seek with my mocha chocolate son.

The doors opened and the lobby cleared. Andre came over to the counter with a sad look on his face. His new friend had left for the magic show. Andre didn't want to watch it again. He wanted his friend to stay in the lobby and play with him. I walked around to the lobby to sit with him. I could see where they had taken all of the pillows and made a play area under one of the big round tables with a black table cloth that came down to about and inch or two from the floor. I'm quite sure that the little girl's dad wasn't feeling that hiding space at all.

I explained to Andre, who at this point was beside himself about the loss of playtime with his recently departed new friend. I asked him once again would he like to go in and watch the magic show. He thought about it briefly but declined once again. So I explained to him that once the show was over that the little girl more than likely would be leaving just like everyone else. I told him that we could leave now and go do something else, but he wanted to stay in the lobby and wait. So we stayed for the length of the show.

Thirty-five minutes later it was over and everyone exited. The little princess ran past me as I opened the doors, but her father was right there calling for her to come to the elevator. Everyone including the magician left the building. As I locked up the empty place I asked Andre did he want to take a balloon home with him. He muttered no and we went home.

I didn't think much more about that experience until about a week later. I was watching a video about George Washington Carver. I attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama briefly after graduating Schenley High back in the late 70's. So I knew a little about the famous botanist who was on staff there. But in this short video I learned so much. Shockingly so much more. I actually heard Carver's high pitched voice for the very first time. As I watched at the conclusion it was revealed that he had been adopted by a white family at a young age and to make sure things were safe around their young white daughter, they castrated him.

I did plenty of research on this shocking news. I believe it to be true based on my findings. His voice, his never being married or even in a relationship. But more importantly a first hand account from a doctor who examined his body after his death asserting that where there should have been testicles, there was only a scar.

Not much has changed in the minds of folks.

"It's a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under"

Onward......

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#86 Rebirth of Life

Today marks the one year anniversary of my car crash. My wife, family and I have lived with its after effects each and every day. Each day has been a victory as my body continues to heal. I can't begin to tell you how much the support of my community of friends has meant to me. The out pouring of support from friends and family has wrapped it's arms around me and kept me mentally on high ground.

I consider today my first birthday in my rebirth of my life. I'm going to plant eleven trees over the next five weeks to represent both May eleventh and the five weeks that I was in and out of consciousness. And as they grow I plan to continue to grow and learn as a man.

I've returned from the brink of death a different person. I've been altered by a horrific crash that I never could have imagined would have ever happened.

I was that close to understanding just what's on the other side of life. Something that so far humans can only guess at. I was suspended in a time and place I've never visited before.

The medications took me there and held me in their grip. My mind was altered but I was fully alert.

While some may question our creator as I have during occasional bouts of depression, I'm thankful that I was eventually returned to our world. The delusional world in which I visited for five weeks was unpleasant and terrifying. I sit here now and wonder would my experience have been different if my faith was stronger. If my relationship with God was more sincere.

Who knows? But I do know this, I now have the opportunity to expand on my faith by stepping into the waters of life

and adjusting to its temperature.

This evening after rehearsal here in Columbus Ohio. I'm going out to dinner with some members from my cast, crew and a few other friends. At 7pm we will toast to life. I'm asking all of my friends out there in FB land to have a drink with me at 7pm tonight. Any kind of drink. Please raise your glass and toast with us to life! Please say a prayer for me as well, as I continue my journey of healing. All prayers are welcomed. Take a pic and post it to my page if you can. But most of all, know that life is precious. Each and every moment...

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#87 Erasing back to the Future!

On my very first day of full consciousness, I had the unfortunate luck of having the Back to the Future marathon running on my hospital TV. I had no choice but to lay there helpless and watch it. I was afraid to close my eyes and re-enter that dark world that I had just emerged from after enduring excruciating mental anguish for nearly five weeks. The only thing I could move was my eye lids and my right hand slightly. In this fog I could see that I had a very large air tube in my mouth and a feeding tube running into one of my nostrils so I couldn't tell anyone to please turn off the TV. I'm only complaining about it now because sometimes when I close my eyes i can see it so clearly. Each and every character, every scene, every one liner, they are all engrained into my sub conscious now. It's like all three of those movies are locked into the default of my mind.

On the day that I awoke they not only chose to loop this special, they even ran each movie twice! Twelve plus hours! So I'm now an expert on the Back to the Future franchise I guess.

But guess what? I don't want to be a expert on the Back to the Future franchise! It's forever engrained into my head now. Every once in a while I'll hear "Wait a minute Doc, you're telling me you built a time machine... Out of a DeLorean!?" or countless other lines.

It drives me crazy! Out of nowhere images of "McFly, Doc or Biff" and numerous other characters will appear in my head. I'm thinking I may have to binge watch something else to edge it out of my skull.

I know I have all of the VHS tapes of back to the future somewhere in a box in the basement. I think I'll locate them and add them to one of the burn bins so that they can all become ashes next fall. Sure I could toss them into the trash and they'd be gone next Wednesday morning but I don't want to put more plastic into the earth, besides maybe just maybe by not only burning them but watching them burn, it might psychologically help to erase their memory from my brain. Okay I know it's a long shot but I'm serious, this shit is in my head! I'm burning those bitches like a Donald Trump for "Present a Dent" Tee Shirt! Yes that's an original "Chronicle line" aka "Rip" from yours truly. Feel free to use it. And yes I'm very medicated at this moment.

I laid their helpless in my hospital bed unable to communicate properly. I also had a drip tube with morphine attached to me. They placed some sort of handle with a button on it near my hand and told me to push it whenever I had pain. I guess whenever the pain increased I should push it to release a dose of morphine. I could barely move anything. I had a ton of stuff attached to my left hand. Tubes and iv's and what not. Well at some point because of all of the meds that I was on, the lines got blurred and I started pushing away at the button, I guess I was trying to turn the TV OFF! But in fact I was squirting morphine into my system! I mean I guess it was controlled to the point where it wouldn't kill me but I wasn't feeling any physical pain that day. Just mental repeated TNT Back to The Future pain!

When would this day end!? It was torture I tell you. I wanted to close my eyes so badly. I guess my eyes had been open before but maybe I just wasn't reacting, Because the nurses just seemed to come and go. My wife came in and initially I said nothing of the television psychotherapy that I was receiving I was just glad to see her and was curious to know just what had happened to me and my body.

One of the worst results of this is when I catch myself about to insert dialogue from one of the three movies into my everyday talk in life. Yes indeed the mind is a terrible thing to waste. I giggle like I can't believe that this is happening. Our subconscious is a fertile place. It's reminiscent of mothers putting headphones on their belly's playing soothing music to their unborn child. Or the opposite like how the propaganda folks for Japan used Tokyo Rose against our American servicemen in WWII.

One of these days, one of these days I guess I'll binge watch something. But there's so much junk out there. I may have to wait until 2027 for the August Wilson American Century Cycle on HBO.

Onward!

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#88 Crashing

There's this moment, this surreal moment when you know that you've passed that time when you should have taken your meds. Specifically your pain killers. Your body drifts off into la la land. You get tired and you exist in a semi conscious state. It's like you're sitting in the eye of a tornado and everything is calm. The pain lurks just outside of your circle of tranquility. You could take the pills now and get back on track but you don't want to. You just want to exist. You don't dare move because you know that your body will start to react like a scorned woman. It's sole mission is to bring you a slow agonizing pain. It will become foreign to you and slowly start to tighten up. Much like a fine tailored suit gradually continually adjusting itself to a much younger you.

Suddenly a loan tear emerges from the crease of your eye letting you know that the pain is authentic and not imagined. You wipe it and laugh a little as you try to erase its existence and mask the pain. You think of how life was before all of this and you wonder why over and over again that it has come to this.

You must eat something to cushion the pills landing. But you're not hungry, so you force yourself to eat a few crackers to soften the blow to your stomachs base and sensitive walls. Then you stare down those amber bottles. Like in the middle of a western town.

A moment of a raw life stand off. They smirk at your desire and disdain for them. After much though and with your pride setting in with a sure grip, you firm up your backbone and you walk away. You move on to fight another day or maybe just another hour or two. You don't want it's nasty medicinal taste resonating on the roof of your mouth or collecting on the outer edges of your lips.

You mentally return to your space within the circle. The winds of pain churn faster and faster as your body reacts to its inability to self medicate. You search for the positives of your decision. You realize that this is thee absolute best time to address your injuries and sort out just what has healed and what injuries are still healing. Because of the decrease in temporary medicated comfort you can clearly tell what parts of your body are still damaged to the point that the pain is just too unbearable to go it alone. You decide that at some point you must give in for the sake of total healing. Piggy backing on the meds to get you over the hump. You know that with their help you can return to a nice peaceful place, both mentally and physically.

You must push the thoughts of all of those that have succumbed to over medicating themselves to get to the promised land of peacefulness. Knowing that it only led them down a doomed road. However you must not forget the dangers of ingesting the unique shaped variety of pills that await you. I heard on the news that the United States is responsible for eighty percent of all prescription drug use in the world. "Say whaaaat?" That's banana's!

Truth comes in many forms. Sometimes fake truths fake us out. But I do know that natural has always been a good choice. It's like soothing jazz. It's good for your heart and soul. I'm searching folks for that promised land of peace and comfort. I'm trying to build my bodies strength up. Both mentally and physically.

I pray that I reach that plateau soon.

Onward!

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#89 The Peanut Lesson

Said individual holding peanut remnants.  Photo by author, taken at a red light.

This was originally going to be called "My Nutty Friend". But as it sat in my mind, I began to search for a deeper meaning of this experience.

I had actually put this aside because of the silliness. But when I went to get into the same vehicle a week later for yet another trip to Ohio I saw the remnants. There were shell casings strewn across the passenger side floor. It looked like a crime scene. A nutty ass drive by. And off to the left side, sat one lone half of a peanut.

This was whole thing started a week earlier. So I'll just dive right into it.

This N%#*£€ here! Oh I was mad than a mother. Ok, maybe I'm just a little bit too sensitive. You be the judge. So I'm headed out of town for a photo shoot. My good friend, let's just call him my Nutty friend. So my Nutty friend said he would drive me there and back. He's not nutty in the sense that he's crazy, just that.... well you'll see.

So it's about a three and a half hour drive each way. So twenty minutes out of the Burg he's done. I mean his eyes are drooping he's going over those ridges on the side of the road. You know when it makes that sound that's suppose to wake you up? "Bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump!" And you know I'm not down for NO MORE car crashes. But he does the right thing and says "I'm going to need you to take the wheel". I'm like "Certainty, no problem, but would you mind pulling over first?" I mean I really don't want to steer the car from the passengers side. You know how some folks will never pull over? No matter what. They just keep on easing down the road, trying to get some driver brownie points. Like "I drove fifty one percent of the way"

It wasn't really like that, but you know what I mean. So eventually his pride steps aside and he pulls into a gas station. We fill the tank up. I make my way around to the drivers side holding on to the vehicle at all times. Cause my legs are jacked up, and I can't walk right.

Anywho, so now we're headed down the highway again. This time I'm behind the wheel. We were three minutes into my take over and my man was knocked the hell out. I mean I swear I looked in the rear view mirror and there were like twenty big ass pigs following us. Not police, but a whole heard of hogs. That's how hard he was snoring folks.

That was a little weak but you get my drift. So we're rolling pretty good down the road. My stomach was growling a little, but because of how difficult it is for me to get in and out of the car without wearing myself out, I figure we would just eat when we get there.

A few hours have gone by and he wakes up. Ok. No biggie. I plan to drive the final hour or so in. After a few moments he opens up the glove compartment and pulls out a bag of peanuts.

Ok, let me stop right here for a minute and explain something. All of this story is related to my recovery. See because if I could get out of the car and walk into a store like a normal person then this whole little peanut scenario would have played out a lot differently. But then again maybe I'm just a bit too sensitive.

Ok, so he pulls out this bag of peanuts. He opens them up and right away my eyes send a signal to my brain and it goes back down and to my stomach in lightning speed. Ok so now my stomach starts to move around and shift a little. You know, it's getting itself prepared to receive a treat. Yes I'm hungry! I figure a handful or two of shelled peanuts will hold me until we get to our destination. He breaks open a few an immediately devours them. My stomach reacts with a low growl. I send a message to my stomach via my brain for it to stay calm because we're about to be offered some tasty peanuts. It agrees and returns to a less heightened state.

But there is no offer. No sharing of the nuts. Time continues to pass, we draw closer and closer to our destination. The bag of nuts gets emptier by the minute. The empty shell collection basket grows more populated. Still no offer. This is nuts! I remain silent. Pissed! Perturbed! To proud to beg! My stomach has had enough of my silent protest. It lets out a roar of FEED ME! But to no avail. The ramble of the road drowns it out. I say to myself paired with a shaken head. "This mug is jive". Yes I went back to the seventies for my description. It seems like I haven't been dogged like this since those days.

We arrive in Columbus. As we enter the hotel I mention it to him in a jokingly way. He responds by saying the obvious. "Why didn't you say something?" He then offers to buy me some snacks from the hotels in house convenience store but I decline. My ego guard is still up. Yes I was drugged during this whole episode. But what did l learn? What was the Peanut Lesson? I know that basic manners should come into play. But if you really want something in LIFE you not only have to ask for it, you have to go after it. Nothing just comes to you. A lot of times folks sit on the side lines of life wondering why they don't have what the see other people with. And I'm not just talking about material things. I'm speaking about love, happiness, friendship, smiles and many more non tangible things. More times than not people have what they have because they've made sacrifices in their lives and worked hard to get whatever it is that they have. They've opened their mouths and asked. Asked for that meeting, that referral, that loan, that whatever.

I think about my encounter with my peanut hoarding friend. I think of some of the scenarios that could have come into play. He was just too hungry, he was in cruise control, or believe it or not he could have been eating in his sleep. But in hindsight, all that was really necessary was for me to simply just ask. I could have asked and kept it moving. And that my friends, is my peanut lesson.

Onward!

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#90 Update #3

I got off track with the writing of my chronicles. My goal was to complete the 99 Chronicles by the May 11th one year anniversary of our crash.

I then thought to extend it for another five weeks to represent the five weeks that i was in and out of consciousness.

However as the number of chronicles needed to complete my mission decreased, my mindset has gotten to the point where I have started to worry about each and every little thing. The exact opposite as to just what the whole idea of sharing my recovery process has been. It has always been about just putting the truth of my circumstances out there. Unfiltered, unapologetic and un-spelled checked. This approach allowed me to be transparent and brutality honest.

As the months have slipped by I now find myself more and more overly concerned about just what and how I share information. Could it be that my medications have ran their course? Could it be that my mind has reached a point where it has a new clarity? Some days I wonder will this recovery process ever end and also have people had enough of hearing about my woes. Whether uplifting or not. Sometimes I get tired of writing about them. I never go back and read any of this. Deep down inside and all the way to the surface I want all of this to be behind me. Although it's therapeutic nature is diminishing, I will press on.

Before the accident I weighted 249 pounds. When I awoke for good some five weeks later I had dropped close to eighty pounds. Yes, I weighed a mere 169 pounds or so. Some people would love to weigh that much, however I looked like an emaciated prisoner. Today I weigh 250 lbs. Due to some swelling I had climbed all of the way up to 255. But with the help of some pills from my doctor I dropped those water pounds in a few days. That was the highest I've ever weighed in my life.

It's good to have some weight on but I now need to scale it back and have a more healthier lifestyle eating wise. Not to make any excuses but I don't want to hurt my kids feelings when they offer me snacks.

I've noticed that days turn into a week more quickly than ever before. Sometimes I sit and slowly realize that a few minutes were actually a few hours.

Mental recovery is a slow process.

I sit in bathroom and every once in awhile there's a soft knock on the door followed up with a concerned "Are you alright?" I think what's going on is that sometimes I don't want to look at my body. Sometimes I don't want to struggle at doing something that before was never thought of. Taking a shower was a matter of just getting in there and getting out. Now it's a planned maneuver. Where to step. How to shift my body properly. Just what to hold on to. How long I can stand on each leg. My right calf gives out after six minutes or so. My left ankle caves under weighted pressure. It's a constant shifting of weight.

Some days I skip it altogether and sit in a chair and wash up.

On another note. Last week I laid out stretched across my bed butt naked for the first time in a very long time. I've been camped out on the first floor for nearly a year. Although I have made a few field trips upstairs, I mostly stay in the great room at Falling Rock. The sofa is more comfortable, plus I have a bathroom with a shower and of course my big flat screen TV. Not sure why I mentioned that. I don't really watch much TV. But it does come in handy when the boys are in the room. I know all about their shows. My daughter and I watch an on demand movie every now and then. I usually fall asleep and have to watch the rest of it the next day.

When visitors come it's easy for me to greet them opposed to having them wait while I make my way downstairs.

But I guess the best excuse is that if your watching a late night program on TV and you fall asleep, then it's a chore getting up and marching up those fourteen stairs. Especially if you have walking issues.

So I'm laying on my bed and i feel a bump deep inside my left butt cheek. You know how you woman give yourselves a check up? You check your chest for lumps. Well I was giving myself a check up. I felt a lump, like a knot. At first I thought it may be a clot, but then I figured it can't be a clot because I don't feel lightheaded at all. Maybe it's a tightening of a muscle. Then I realized exactly just what it was. See I'm personally checking my butt cheek for the first time since the accident. I'm actually checking out my entire body. My flesh had gotten really weak due from inactivity and lying in a bed for nearly four months.

I kept touching, grabbing and pushing down on this small knot and then it comes to me just what this could be. I believe it's the end of a bolt with a washer and nut attached.

I ain't the same person that I use to be!

I have hardware in me for life, and I may as well get use to it. It's one of two six inch bolts in my hip. One holds my shattered hip together and the other one holds my hip to my tailbone. When you look at the X-ray it appears like they were purchased at Home Depot for .69 cents a piece. But in actuality they are made out of titanium. I know this not because some specialist at the hospital told me, but because when I went though the metal detector at the County Courthouse nothing went off. I told the sheriffs deputy that I had a ton of metal in me and he said "That's all titanium, you're good". I was like "really?" All this time I'm thinking that my going through the airport was going to be a chore.

I have multiple amounts of titanium in five different parts of my body. It's depressing but most times I try to play it off like I'm Lee Majors.

I've been acting all along. I find that when people are around I'm fine but when I'm all by myself I slip into a depression. So I guess people are my drug. That's what got me through my hospital stay. All of my visitors. It was amazing.

Nowadays like a good bath, I submerge myself in the words of my mentor. Rehearsals are soothing and assist in leaving my woes at the door.

Onwards!

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#91 My Left Foot

I started writing this earlier this year, I believe sometime in late February.

I really like the totality of it because it shows that improvement can happen with prayer, patience and the right approach to your needs. It went a little something like this ...

My left foot is jacked up! I mean it's really fucked up. I'm sorry for that language but that's the most honest way of describing it. I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me. I just want to rant about it a little.

I have what is called drop foot. It's from my peroneal nerve being stretched during my accident. That nerve runs from up above my hip all the way down to my foot. And since my hip was fractured big time as well as my knee being nearly destroyed there's really no way to pin point just where it was stretched or even possibly severed.

I stare at it for lengthy amounts of time just trying to will it to move. Nothing. It just exist. I can't lift it up at all. I can push down with my toes ever so slightly and I can move my left foot very slightly to the left.

Sometimes late at night when the pain is so unbearable and I'm torn between taking a pain pill or sleeping it off. There are real moments when I fantasize about sawing my foot off at the ankle. I mean other than the mess I really doubt I would even feel any pain. I mean really, who really wants to loose a foot? I actually don't, but sometimes I can actually imagine being better off without it in its current condition. A prosthetic one with no pain associated with it sounds much more appealing. Especially if it helps me to walk like a normal person again. I know it sounds outlandish but I'm thinking about it from my reality. I really don't expect you to understand.

I have it wrong in my head. For some reason I think that I should be striking my left foot with a meat cleaver in an attempt to sever it. The dullness leaves it feeling detached or merely a near death extension of a limb that is basically of no use to me. In my most stressed mind I actually think that I could replace my damaged foot with a robotic one that would serve me better and return me wholly to a normal life.

But then there's that phantom feeling to think about. Some people say that because of your nerves you can still feel

like it's still there. Wouldn't that be a b#>>h? So I guess I'll hold on to it and ride it out.

There have been times where I have planted my walking cane right on my foot by accident and put my weight on it standing up or walking and never knew it until I looked down. No feeling whatsoever. It's like it's not even my foot. I'm really concerned because I think at some point my blood will just stop circulating through it and it can cause me much worse health problems.

I'm thinking that the best thing for me would be to just put on a sock and shoe as soon as I'm up in the morning. Because then it feels closer to normal. At least visually it does.

When less violent acts enter my mind, I fantasize about having a needle injected into my ankle right above my foot. And as its magical ingredients flow down into my foot it slowly begins a transformational dance of rebirth.

If I may, I'd like to share a Chronicle poem with you. It's an unedited raw poem. It's called "When I Walk Again", not like I haven't been walking lately but for like when I'm really walking. Normally like most of you do.

So here it goes.

"When I walk again. I'm talkin' about some real walkin'. Full stride walkin', nice gait walking, nobody watchin' you walkin'. That's the kind of walkin' I'm talkin' about. I'm talkin' bout livin' for the day when I can jump up out of the bed and make my way to the little room at the end of the hallway without touchin' the walls walkin'.

When I can get up out of a chair without everybody watching me struggle walkin'.

When I walk again I'm gonna sneak up on my woman with a handful of roses. Tip toe right up on her, grab her from behind by her waist and spin her around. Maybe even dance a little to the melodies in my mind.

When I walk again, i'm talkin' 'bout taken my Mama shopping and fillin' her car up with everything from Apples to Z best crab legs in the Strip!

When I can walk really good again, I'm talkin' bout takin' my kids and their friends to Kennywood walkin'. Walkin' round that place till they ready to go home walkin'!

I'm talkin' about getting up and answering the door walkin'

Fast walkin' Walking into the kitchen and turning off the stove walkin.

Marching for our rights walkin'!

All the things we take for granted walkin'!

That's the kinda walkin' I'm talkin' about!"

....... Just walking."

Now fast forward to present day.

Wow! I'm glad I decided to keep my foot! It's responding very well to acupuncture therapy. Because of it I now have much more feeling in it and more movement in my toes and even some slight ankle flex. Because of these treatments I have been able to decrease my use of nerve pain medication. Walking although still difficult, it is much better than before.

Having a normal left foot is still a long way off. I've been told by surgeons to really just be glad that I'm able to walk again and to get use to the "New Normal". Well I tried that but there's something kicking and screaming deep inside of me that wants to be normal again. And I don't think that trying to get back to being normal is a bad idea. It's just a long road to travel to get there. Even though getting up and walking is not only difficult but embarrassing as well, I'm more patient now, especially after witnessing the segmented healing advances of acupuncture therapy, exercise and just the feeling that I have inside that thru prayer and faith that full recovery will come.

Onward!

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#92 My Back

There's nothing like the feeling of having something foreign in your body. Your body knows it's not natural and responds accordingly. I thought I knew all about the spinal fusion they performed on me less than a week after my accident. However an entire year went by before I finally saw their handiwork via an X-ray.

The good thing about a scar that's out of your range of vision, is well like they say "Out of sight, out of mind". Out of the blue the other day my wife texted me a picture of my back that she took the day they took my staples out. She tells me that I requested that she take the photo. I don't remember any of it. But it was good to see it along with last weeks X-ray. It gave me a better insight of just what the initial damage was and the results of the subsequent repairs.

Forty-five metal staples clinging to my skin. Stretching it shut. Wow, and did you see the X-ray? Did you see those ten big ass titanium screws penetrating my spinal area holding the two rods in place? Please folks no more slaps on the back. Yes I'm happy to still be here but let's not celebrate by sending me back to the hospital.

I've been going through somewhat of a metamorphosis lately. After being on varying levels of pain medication for an entire year I'm proud to say that I'm currently pushing through my eighth day of being Vicodin Free! It was a gradual decrease until I finally decided to just go "Cold Turkey". Don't get me wrong I loved them. Even the smallest dose increased my sense of humor. Well at least in my mind. But they also gave me the energy to attempt to do normal things without the accompanying pain. But in the end I had to make a decision to move forward with life without them.

Having toxic unnatural things in your body is not a good thing. Which brings me back to well ... my Back. What lead me to getting an X-ray was a deep tissue pain that emanated from right below my left side of my rib cage from the rear. When my masseuse first located it, pain shot through me as though I was being bludgeoned to death. It was like this deep cancerous zone that was nothing but an inner mass of pure pain. She abruptly stopped and we talked about it briefly. I initially had no idea of what it could be. But as the days went by I thought to myself perhaps it could be a broken rib that had not healed properly or a injury from one of my four falls since I left the hospital.

Presently I believe it's muscle that was cut during my spinal fusion. I think that there may be a slight ripple from where the incision took place in it outwards. Who really knows. It's been well over a week and I haven't heard back from my doctor as of yet. Hang tight I'm going to call his office now. 📞

Ok. So his assistant say's that there's no broken ribs or anything. I then ask about maybe getting an MRI. She suggest that we discuss it at my next appointment in late August........ So I then asked her about these rods and screws in my back. Could they be the source of my pain. See I had read up on just what a spinal fusion is. It turns out that the rods and screws were put in to keep my back straight while the bones fused together. I also googled "Taking rods out after spinal fusion".

I learned that plenty of people get this procedure to alleviate pain. So I asked her about this. She agreed that it's not uncommon to do so and that I should discuss this with my doctor at my next appointment. All I have to say is "These mothers are coming out!" Yes, just reading those two articles and discussing it briefly with my doctors assistant gave me so much hope. Man I have to read more. Until I saw the photo and X-ray of my back it didn't stand out in my mind. I wasn't proactive about getting to the source of the pain.

Well like I said earlier I'm currently in the eighth day of going without the pain medication Vicodin. Other than some slight back stiffness and some emotional adjustments, I'm doing fine. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel much more clearly. It's getting closer. I can close my eyes and feel the warmth of its glow. I'm taking my time to reach it, but I'll get there.

Onward!

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#93 Falling Rock

"When I think of home I think of a place where there's love over flowing"

Yes I'm home! We call our humble abode "Falling Rock".

My Aunt Rainey in Baltimore dubbed it that many years ago while visiting. I mentioned to her that I got a great deal of the place because people thought that the house was going to fall over the hill due to the fact that some of the ground behind the house had slid down the hill. Yes there was some moderate erosion, and rocks had rolled down into the yard of my neighbors house below. She laughed as she christened the place Falling Rock . A take on Falling Water, the famous Architect Frank Llyod Wright's 1935 designed home in Mill Run PA.

Our house is slightly a bit older. It's a large house. Eighteen rooms, It was nineteen but I knocked a wall down early on to make a huge master bedroom. It has since been taken over by the boys, so, so much for that idea.

Anywho I was very surprised that nobody really wanted this house. It sat vacant for several years. That was twenty years ago. These days a Pitt professor or Google employee would have snatched it up for a quarter of a million dollars plus without blinking an eye. There's a house on my street a few blocks away that a couple bought to house their two sons that were attending Pitt. They paid $250K for it, like almost twice it's going rate, that was eight years ago. A Japanese woman once came to my door proclaiming "I pay cash for your house!"

It was a nice gesture, and to know that our home is in some people's thoughts and desires, but let's see a brother try that in Japan. Hell even right here in some of our neighborhoods.

I'm just saying. Yes things have certainly gotten weird in my hood. When I bought the house it was almost in move in condition except that It needed a new furnace. Well oddly the bank was really pro active about me buying this house for some reason. So pro active that they eventually sprung for a new boiler system valued at $3,500 bucks! Yes. Ask me about it and I'll explain it to you later in person.

Anywho the hardwood floors where intact and in excellent shape throughout the house. I did replace all of the windows, but with a commercial grade bronze aluminum with that whole energy saving argon injected gas inside of them, plus the reflective coating that keeps out some of the more damaging rays from the sun. Well at least that's what the salesman ran down on me. I went with it. Nothing but the best for Falling Rock.

When I think of home, I'm like most people. Home makes me think of comfort and safety. When I returned to consciousness after my accident I wanted so badly to return home. It's one of the first thoughts that entered my mind. My nephew recently reminded me that I contacted him in a dazed state pleading with him to assemble several police officer friends who are also neighbors of mine to assist him in getting me the hell out of Presby and back to Falling Rock. I figured at least the police had guns and nobody would give them any trouble.

That was my first choice for escape the back up plan was for the tag team of my older brother Rick and our mutual friend Clifford to spring me. See they both are avid outdoorsman and I'll just leave it at that. But I figured that if they ran into some resistance then they might end up in jail or worse. But I wanted to get home so bad. Never mind the shape that I was in, because quite frankly I had no idea how bad things really were. All I knew is that I was alive and I wanted to go home.

But I couldn't move. I mean I could barely move at all. This all was so new to me. In my mind I could get up out of that bed and do whatever I wanted, but in reality I was pretty much a rag doll. It was a constant day to day struggle to get that through to my understanding. But just like the adrenaline rush immediately after the crash that kept me from feeling any extreme pain so had the IV drip that was staving off the present pain to allow me to think in unrealistic terms.

Getting to Falling Rock, to my wife and children, that's all I wanted to do. However when I actually laid there and thought about my home, I couldn't remember what it looked like. I mean really what does my house look like? I laughed at first knowing that the medications were playing lucid tricks on my mind. But soon the amusement of it eventually turned to frustration as I tried to piece together my memory. I couldn't remember what the front of my house looked liked. Even the front door. I could remember what the back of my house looked like for some odd reason. Maybe because we just had some ground leveled off back there right before my accident, so the vision of it was clear. However it was a view from out in the woods, like a helicopter had taken me out about two hundred feet away to look at it.

Falling Rock is a special place for me.

It's where my father told me he loved me for the first and only time. We were in the basement and he was standing on the steps. I knew he loved me, that wasn't what it was all about. It's just that like men of his era they very rarely verbalized that they loved their sons. So I said to him "I know you love me, but I just never really heard you say it"

He looked at me like ... ok, then he said "I love you son". It was a great feeling hearing him say it. He died from a massive heart attack less than one week later. So this house is special to me.

It's also where my beloved sixteen year old Black Lab Nikki is buried on the grounds, as well as my wife's cat Patti who she had for nearly nineteen years.

We've just installed a very nice new door. I'd show you a photo but I'd much rather you see it in person.

Falling Rock is where one day I hope to spend an entire calendar year at. Resting, recuperating, writing, rehearsing, podcasting, gardening, raising the boys, photographing, having family time, healing, loving and most of all enjoying LIFE!

Onward!

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#94 Permanent Dance Stance

One of my long time friends visited me at the hospital with his girlfriend. We sat and talked, reminiscing about our youthful days. Sports we played, bike riding, party's we went to and so on. And then he said it. As I laid there in my hospital bed like an injured GI on M.A.S.H.

"Man I bet you never thought you'd wind up like this. After all the people you talked about growing up, it done went full circle". Yep that's what he said. Pretty much verbatim. I was embarrassed that he would say such a thing in front of his girlfriend. I mean we use to rip on each other and other folks many times over, but this was brutal. I was initially irate and felt a little better after he left, but in hindsight he was right.

Growing up, kids make fun of each other. It just happens. I was certainly guilty of it myself, although my ripping was somewhat of a defense mechanism. Many of my friends were rippers as well to varying degrees.

I had the unfortunate situation of following in the wake of my somewhat bully of a brother throughout our school years. Especially in high school where he had graduated the year before I entered, so I was without his assumed protection. I had no choice but to rip to defend myself. Now making fun of people as we walked down the street or rode the bus was a whole different vibe. It was careless and rude and yes unfortunately I participated in that ignorant sport from time to time as well. This was more so from peer pressure and the need to fit in.

It wasn't that I was improperly raised by my parents, allow me to to just blame it on immaturity. Yes my friend seemed to be on the right track in that it seemed that things had gone full circle. And now in some sort of karma like fashion I was being punished for all of the bad things that I had said about people as a youth. Well it's easy to think that way when you're searching for answers.

I'm quite sure he's voiced that opinion to folks prior to his visit. It is what it is. Although it was bothersome to hear initially, I'm no longer fazed by it.

But I guess there is this lingering wonderment about the title of this chronicle. You may be asking yourself "Just what is a Permanent Dance Stance?" You see I also have this thing, I tend to call it "Juvenile Tourettes Syndrome". Not full blown, just tiny spurts of just saying whatever comes to mind. It has cost me a few embarrassing moments over the years as well as one good grade school ass whipping. Hopefully my fessing up of this self diagnosed verbal ailment will shed some light for some folks that may have experienced past uncomfortable interactions with me.

And since i'm touching on this subject, if I have offended any of you in the past during one of these outburst please in box me and allow me to apologize. Although If it happened after the age of thirty then just contribute it to my being an ass, no doubt due to being overworked in the steel industry.

One of the things that i have commented on during these Tourette moments has been the way men stand as if they've had Classical ballet dance training in their early years. It's a held over thought from my prior years of being a homophobic male in America. Come on we've all been there. Well most of us. Let's be truthful. Whether you want to fess up to it or not the majority of straight men or should I say boys, grow up homophobic because it seems natural to go against anything that appears to be unnatural. The same holds true for racist. Anywho this chronicle isn't about that as much as it is about how I acquired a permanent dance stance.

So I would see guys standing a certain way and usually if they had this dancers stance then more than likely they were gay. The same if they had the limp wrist. Oh sure no one wants to talk about this stuff. Anywho I would remark "Hey are you a dancer?" Well I'm not going to lie, I've actually asked this of people recently well up until maybe 2014. But not so much as an indicator anymore, but more like "Are you really a dancer?" See I got into the performing arts late in life. Like around age 30. Plus you should read Chronicle #49 so that you can fully understand why I have a much better appreciation of the gay culture and have left that whole homophobic thing behind.

I know this is some heavy stuff for some brothers. I can see some of ya'll now holding your nuts and exclaiming "That mothphucker must done lost his damn mind. Them drugs got him all phucked up! Shiiiiit, the hell if I'm gonna be readin' this gay ass shit"

Ok, see when the surgeons put my left leg back together, they put fourteen pins into my bones to hold my tibia bone together and in place. They had those pins attached to this big external metal bracket called an immobilizer. They put it on and instructed me to keep my leg completely still for four months. That's right you heard me folks, FOUR LONG ASS MONTHS!

That's the price you pay when you don't drink enough water to keep your throat moist. Yes, a coughing fit led to my auto accident.

I noticed that during recovery when I happened to lay straight in my bed that my left foot jetted out to the left but I paid very little attention to it. I just straightened it up and shifted my focus elsewhere as it drifted back to the left. The general consensus was "Just be glad you have your foot". It wasn't until I started taking stand up showers many months later after my release that I realized that not only my foot but my left leg from the knee down was turned to the left. I can turn it to the right but it doesn't feel natural. It's like I'm forcing my leg bone into a position that doesn't work. See "The leg bones connected to the foot bone". Yep, so now I have a permanent dance stance. Couple that with my foot drop and I reeeealy look like a retired ballet dancer who now lives next to a donut factory.

That's all folks! A big dose of Karma if you will. Please tip your server, and most importantly ....... be kind to everybody.

Onward!

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#95 More Dog Shit

I tried to ride the other day out without my half of a pain pill. See I went to the acupuncturist and he worked on my back pain. But the only way to find out if what he did really worked would be for me to let my pain meds die out.

Well that's not so easy. See because depression creeps in with varying degrees as my pain meds subside.

So you basically have to sacrifice something. It's either sanity over physical pain or vice versa.

Well this little encounter helped a great deal. I went up to Columbus for rehearsal and I sat in the lobby of the theater while one of my actors along with my stage manager and a few helpers went to go pick up a piano.

I decided to stay behind and ride out my medicine withdrawal. Depression crept in at every waking moment as did some slight stiffness in my back. And just as I was about to give in and pop a pill for much needed relief, I was befriended by a two year old pit bull terrier named George. Normally I would have dismissed him like a black man would have been walking into a southern dinner back in the day.

I was sitting there and out of nowhere he came prancing in from another room. One of the theaters employees happened to bring him to work this day. I would learn that he was a rescue dog that he adopted from an Ohio agency.

We played together in the lobby for well over an hour. It was a much needed pick me up. At one point a white woman walked into the lobby from off the street. She froze as she saw a black man with a black hoodie on holding a pit bull. I can only imagine what was going through her mind. I said hello but my cheerful words went into a void as she slowly exited. Fuck it I know it's summer but my adrenal glands were damaged in the accident and I get cold very easily. So yes it's summer but I wear my hoodie that my wife bought me. Keep it moving and quit watching the eleven o'clock news!

Anywho, I've been wanting a dog for the last several years since my Jack Russell went missing. I know the emotional healing powers of pets so I didn't need to be sold on it. But I had always feared Pitt Bulls. Not from a bad experience but from the horrible stories that I've saw on the news. So this experience must be what it's like for some whites that are fearful of blacks. I'm assuming that the news has done similar damage to folks minds as it has done to mind in relation to actually getting to know a Pit Bull.

Hey I love dogs. My siblings and I grew up with our friendly canine by our sides each and every step of the way. First it was Ginger a golden retriever, then briefly a relatives Doberman pincher we took in which had an evil name, all I will say is that the dog was Red and mean. Then there was Jack the beagle we found lost in the woods that was the best rabbit hunting dog ever and then Duke, I'm not sure what breed he was. We also had briefly a gigantic St Bernard. Like the Red Doberman with the evil name, we took him in for a few months for a family member. I don't remember his name but I do remember him slobbering all over us non stop. And then there was my very first dog as a young adult, Nikki my black lab.

Nikki named after my Nikon camera that I used at the time was a great companion.

She had amazing leaping ability and could find anything that you asked her to look for. One time I took her down to Schenley lake and she attempted to clean out the entire lake of floating debris. We had to end because a large crowd had gathered to watch and it got dark and the kids there didn't want to leave. I had Nikki for 16 years

Then came Squirt my little frisky Jack Russell who I got for a very young Ashley. We lost Squirt a few years ago after he got out, and what we believe is that he took to the road in search of me when I was out of town directing.

Ashley now has a Morkie named Bently and wifey has a black cat named Moon Walk. They wanted to name him Michael Jackson but I didn't think that was a suitable name especially around our two young boys. Hey, I'm just saying.

There were probably a few pets that I left out. The Hamster that ate her litter. The two Piranhas that ate mice, oh yeah and the gigantic Snakehead fish that I had to donate to the zoo because he grew as big as the 55 gallon tank and stared at me while I ate dinner. We had a whole host of creatures growing up.

Anywho that's my pet story.

And now for my RANT.

About this young man that received 17 years in jail for killing the police dog Rocco. Let me just get this off of my chest. The first thing that comes to my mind is George Zimmermans simple ass walking around while the pain of Trayvon Martin's death and the resulting unjust verdict looms over and haunts the entire people of colors community and the conscious well meaning citizens as well.

I certainly don't want to pass judgement, I feel that he should have been punished for killing the police dog. Absolutely without a doubt. But seventeen years is pretty lengthy.

I think that when it comes to people that are in power the verdict is going to go in their favor 99.999% of the time.

That's why nobody is really surprised.

And let me get a few more things off of my chest. The day that Rocco was buried and it was all over the news, an African American Man was buried as well. He was a friend from my hill district community. A very nice brother who always was pleasant and courteous. I hadn't seen him in awhile he had moved to another area of town but apparently he was involved in an altercation with police in his borough and he was shot and killed in his back yard. Apparently he was said to have been waving some sort of gun around. That's unfortunate. It was also said that he was in need of help mentally. It's unfortunate that he didn't receive help.

I found out much later of his death because his funeral wasn't televised like Rocco the dogs was.

But it's a gut wrenching feeling that it appears that not only black lives don't matter, but black existence doesn't matter as well. Don't forget this is the city that celebrated the arrival of a gigantic yellow duck with much hoopla on the very same day that the August Wilson Center closed its doors.

I know that the man who killed Rocco is white but it brings to the surface about what is really fair. A seventeen year sentence is not really fair in my opinion for killing a dog in self defense. With all of the media coverage I'm surprised that they didn't move the trial to another county. Actually I'm not. They didn't move it because they didn't want to waste taxpayers money on a trial for the death of a dog and which is the very same reason why this young man should not have received such a lengthy sentence. Of course this is just my opinion. Dog lovers out there no matter what you say or think you are not a greater dog lover than I. We may be equal as pet lovers but you are not a greater lover of LIFE than I.

I support the stoppage of using dogs to hunt people. It's too reminiscent of the overseers unleashing their hounds on runaway slaves. The haunting bark of death closing in on them. This excites zero black folks. It's a held over tradition rooted deep into the holocaust of slavery. It must end.

Onward!

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#96 The Horizontal and the Vertical

When I'm tired and i close my eyes sometimes I see visions as if I'm in a hospital. Not laying in a bed, but just standing there observing hospital life. There I am at the back of the elevator with people getting on and off. Just hanging around watching everyday hospital life. It's as though my spirit is there reporting back to me. It happens quite often, but only when I close my eyes. Usually when I'm tired but not sleep. It's like it's engrained into my subconscious. Like when we use to walk into a phone booth back in the day and the light automatically came on once you fully closed the accordion type door. Or for the younger folks, it's like when the dryer stops rotating once you open its door. It's that kind of on and off. It's eerie not spooky .... just eerie.

My whole experience kinda reminds me of the final scene in the movie The Sixth Sense. M. Knights Shams only "Good" movie. It was that whole sequence when Bruce Willis realized that he actually has been dead the whole time. I can't help but to think of this. I don't think I'm dead, but it does feel like a small part of me is stuck in the netherworld.

I'm not sure why I'm having these visions. I know I do sit around and wonder about things for long amounts of time. Maybe my wonderment is seeping into my subconscious.

After baths i'm long over due for an exit, I find myself sitting there in a dry tub. My skin has been without water for nearly three hours. The comfort of this enclosure reminds me of my hospital bed which was my home away from home for a third of a year. Sometimes it felt like a spaceship or an ark, or maybe a gurney in the ER or even worse a slab in the morgue or a coffin.

I now know first hand the madness that races through men's minds. The thoughts and visions that have pushed them to their final breath. Throughout time I have lost friends here and there and I am no longer at a loss for an understanding of the pain and misery that they endured.

Their existence erased from day to day life as if they couldn't keep up, as if they had a problem. Whispered words of their demise. Too painful to even talk about. Too taboo to discuss for a better understanding. My friends I have visited that brink of life. It is not pretty, it is suffocating to be an unwilling witness of it's embrace.

Some say "Shake it off" "You have to push that off of you man" it's much harder than one might imagine. First of all It's difficult to even talk about. There's medications out here that will turn you into a zombie. Lucky for me I've enjoyed life, so I know of its promise. I want to be here for my family and I know that with that thought coupled with when I sit in the embrace of the world of theatre ... I am whole. But wait a minute. Hey! Let's quit dancing around with the subject. Trying to sound all poetic and shit about a very serious matter. Mother phuckers are dying out here both literally and emotionally. Mental illness ain't no joke. I'm talking about people taking themselves out because of the pain of it.

For whatever reason and however they choose to do it. The bottom line is that more times than not their pain is going improperly diagnosed. And worse the stigma associated with it is what pushes them over the edge. For the record my personal view on black mental illness is that it's common and it's common for a reason. SLAVERY was the ultimate mind fuck. So much so, that nobody wants to talk about it, or see anything associated with it. And rightly so. What rape victim actually wants to sit down and watch a surveillance film of what happened to them?

What rape victim wants to learn about the perpetrator and have it included in their family's history? So no I don't want a FREE trial offer to Ancestry.com. That's the ugly truth of it. I have a pretty good Idea about my history and how I arrived at being a citizen of this continent, so no thank you for an update. I tell you what they should have. African Ancestry.com. Where you can leap frog backwards over all of the horrible stuff. Pre Middle Passage.com I'd be interested in that. Other than that I'm just trying to enjoy life the best I can.

There's so many questions out there that people including myself want answers to. In my humble opinion (So don't get mad) some folks that are deep into religion have seen so much negativity in their lifetimes that they are just waiting for the judgement day. Because they're banking on that being the day when they will get some answers. But wouldn't it be messed up if it's a huge let down like so many of these police trials where they basically just about always get off for brutalizing black folks. Like if all of those murdering Afrikaners in South Africa and KKK members got a free pass to heaven.

Man and woman have been stuck with making up their own reality about what's next for our entire existence. But laying there in my hospital bed just lucky to be alive I figured why not ask my preacher some pretty heavy questions that have been ruminating in my mind. See Reverend and Mrs Monroe came to visit me out at the Health South rehab hospital facility that was my final stop before coming home. It was a great visit. As I lay there in my bed we enjoyed small talk about life in general but all the time I had this burning desire to bring God and Life to the table. You know just ask this man of God a plethora of questions and hopefully get some answers. And in my tourette's kind of way I did just that.

It started out with my apologizing in advance to Mrs. Monroe for what may spew from my mouth. She nodded and appeared to brace herself for what was to come. Rev. Monroe sat there calm as the dialogue began. It was somewhat the equivalent of a Catholic confession booth except we were in mixed company and I was laying in a bed opposed to sitting in a booth. It basically was my pretty much rambling on and on about how I felt that if I was a good person that I should go to heaven. How that if I stuck to obeying the Ten Commandments that I should not be kept outside of heavens gates. That as a youth how my older brother and I visited the First Church of God and Christ on Talbot Avenue in Braddock just about each and every Sunday where out grandfather was the preacher and how we accepted Christ way back then.

Then again like many Hill District youths as Tuesday evening participants of Boys Club at The First Presbyterian Church in downtown Pittsburgh where we learned less hand clapping hymnals mixed with basketball, wood shop, puck bowling and other Christianly things as well as accepting Christ as our savior yet again. So after all of this prep and being just generally a plain ole nice person I figured I really shouldn't be sent to hell. But who knows what's really going to happen. I mean I'd rather see George Zimmerman punished now instead of having to wait for the judgement day. But it's not my call. I'm just saying though.

So Rev Monroe says to me. "Mark, you've been working all along on your horizontal line of life. That's how you interact with man here on earth. Doing good and whatnot. But you need to began to work more on your vertical line." And he made the motion upwards with his right hand. "You see, that's your relationship with God."

Enough said ....... onward and ... Upward!

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#97 My Service

There was a time in my life that unbeknownst to me, I was committed to serving our community as a little league baseball coach, a grueling commitment to every entire summer for well over twelve seasons. But in those initial years It was more passion driven if anything.

Baseball has gone by the wayside in our African-American communities. I blame this on Nintendo. It's like Japan had dropped its own bomb of destruction on us, a video game console in most every black child's living room. More times than not, I'm assuming that in an attempt to fill the void of missing or incarcerated fathers, mothers elected to save their hard-earned dollars to appease their "Young man of the house" and at the very least purchase a hard plastic baby sitter with wires connected to their televisions.

These devices, these game consoles, caused our population of young future baseball players' muscles to slowly go into atrophy:

2.
gradually decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.
"her artistic skills atrophied from lack of use"

This was true of our young men, although their thumb muscles and hand dexterity grew stronger.

Eventually the spawning grounds for future Major League ball players that once dominated the Negro Leagues and eventually became the greats of the Major Leagues have now gone by the wayside, thus opening the doors for the Hispanic ball players who I'm sure received less Japanese shipments of these mental-, physical fitness-, and community involvement-robbing digital games.

Yes, our young men have been robbed slowly, unknowingly. Where we used to assemble and play hard ball, fielding eight teams consisting of fifteen players each, has now dwindled down to next to nothing. My former coaches and I, Clifford Taylor, Rodney Brown and the late Jerry Payne, have all witnessed firsthand the dwindling of a once-great empire, a Hill District baseball dynasty that won the 1982 Little League PA State Championship coached by my father, Warren K. Branch, and Hayden Oskin. A strong team led by the talented Willie Clay, who went on to play in Super Bowl XXXI for the New England Patriots.

I've personally witnessed the eventual demise of our baseball heritage, no doubt due to the effects of the video game revolution. I experienced it firsthand with my own two boys while participating on a team that could only muster up eight regular players during the entire summer. It takes nine to complete a team.

Yes, our young black boys have so much more on their plates now, just trying to survive in this wicked world. They no longer see themselves as the heroes of the diamond. They now dream of being in the NBA, or the future stars of the sport that has taken over our Sundays. Or even yet glorified rappers who speak directly to them and their conditions.

Yes, there are other video sport games out there for their strong thumbs to play.

Starting in the pop leagues and following the trail from high school to college to hopefully the pros, that rare possibility of playing on a professional level, more times than not, sadly exists only in their fragile young minds.

When one of my Little League teams finally won the championship, I asked them collectively just what they wanted to do to celebrate. This was pre-Dave and Buster, Chuck E. Cheese and anything similar days. They yelled out things like "Let's have a pizza party!" or "We want to go to Kennywood!" and some even said "Take us fishing!"

But then this one player said "I want to go to the beach". I can't quite remember who it was but he followed it up with "I never been to the beach before."

There was a brief moment of silence as they all pondered this unique idea. Then slowly there was a gradual chorus of "Yeah, me neither" and "Yep, that's what I wanna do." Eventually pizza and fries at Kennywood was a distant thought.

I convinced my third and sometime first baseman Big Rodney's dad to accompany us. So I borrowed my father's van and we met with each parent as their child, who had more than likely never been outside of Pittsburgh before, dove into the van with excitement and we headed off to Virginia Beach.

Absent fathers and poverty were present during those times, so buying food, socks and sometimes even underwear was a normal occurrence. I was young, initially only five years older than my oldest player, so I was considered more like an older brother than a father figure.

After much verbal hammering of "Are we there yet?" we finally arrived.

And let me tell you, when we emerged from the tunnel that led us right smack dab into the ocean area, the smell of the salt water hit us all. And as it was so familiar with my senses, it was the opposite for them; they went into a frenzy, jockeying for window space.

My hard laugh eventually migrated into a soft cry. My heart felt good as did Rodney Brown Sr.'s, knowing that we'd both done something right.

As I think more deeply of that moving experience, as I look at the picture of them on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, I can't help but think of a lost physical connection now coming full circle. Yes, our ancestors' path that they unwillingly made across that ocean, through the Carolinas and eventually migrating up to the Hill District of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania was now finally linked up by their great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandsons and granddaughters.

Yes, baseball in the hood is a distant memory. I personally witnessed the construction of the two grey block dugouts at Martin Luther King Jr, and eventually renamed Warren K. Branch, field. I witnessed these dugouts where our boys sat during the hot summer games with those single steel poles in the center for support.

These dugouts were a blessing that my late father Carl R. Southers and our great umpire the late Dale Jackson so tirelessly built by hand, sometimes in the blazing hot sun and well into the cool Pittsburgh nights, sometimes from the glow of their headlights and eventually under the glow of lights connected with multiple brown, green and dingy white two-prong extension cords running to a rigged nearby power box. My older brother and I spent our youthful nights accompanying our mother delivering them a late dinner, sitting briefly with them on the tailgate of a rusty pick up truck eating egg sandwiches prepared so lovingly by my mom.

Yes, like my Father and Mr. Jackson, and even Mr. Newt, those dugouts are now gone. Torn down in a blink of an eye to make way for gentrified urban gardens.

Yes, tomatoes and other various vegetables now grow in places that once grew boys into men and produced so many great memories in the process.

So I say to all of the sons and daughters of Uptown Little League Baseball who continue to navigate their way through this cruel world, thank you for allowing me to be a small part of your lives. It was indeed an honor to serve. Stay on your grind.

Onward!

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#98 My Father

I had mixed emotions about going to the cemetery this past Memorial Day. It's a place that I could have easily been an eternal tenant of a little over a year ago, well at least my bones. As we went thru the list of loved ones to pay respect to, my lower body slowly began to shutdown. First my right calf, then my left ankle. No amount of pain meds could send those aches in reverse. But I pushed on for the sake of honoring our departed loved ones and to teach our young sons about the responsibility of paying their respect to the ancestors that they've never met.

My father was the most influential person in my life as far as shaping me as a man. As it should be, however many of my friends grew up without a father in the home. This never stood out as a youth, but I certainly realized its effects as we grew into young adults.

I was very fortunate to have my father in my life 24 access if you will. Nothing ever felt forced with him. He was a great provider and my older brother, and I made our way through life naturally. Never any yelling, our butt whoppings were at the hands of our mother but nothing crazy. I think we laughed our way through the few that we did receive. It was usually the threat of a whopping from our dad that slowed us down. My fathers punishment was usually an open handed pop on the back of our heads. Never full force.

And I believe my older brother and I were the only ones that received this level of discipline. With there being a huge age gap in between us and our three younger brothers and sister. We were actually the enforcers when they stepped out of line.

Later that night after returning from the graveyard. My oldest son, eight year old Marcus was glued to the television as I went thru a constant viewing rotation of Roots, The NBA playoff game and the first game of the Stanley Cup. I spent a great deal of time explaining about our African heritage and the middle passage.

I couldn't help but to see the resemblance of the Africans on the ship deck with the white captain and several crew members looking down from the upper deck and the NBA players with the white owners and their families enjoying the game from the comfort of their sky boxes.

I think about all of the black men from my neighborhood that have transitioned on. If I started naming them this chronicle would seem to never end. They were our fathers and grandfathers. uncles, brothers and sons. Gone but not forgotten. Their memories are strong like my fathers. Night watchmen, preachers, bakers, carpenters, jitney drivers, laborers, bus drivers, doctors, electricians, lawyers, athletes, dentist, gamblers, some drinkers, and some smokers. But all men! All role models in one way or another.

The memory and lessons learned from these men along with my father is what helped shape me as a man. I'm not sure if I could have survived mentally from my auto accident and made my way back to where I am today had it not been for the strength and perseverance of the black men from my hood. Through sheer determination, pushing thru discrimination and sometimes pure chaos these men provided for their families and along with their wives raised sons and daughters to carry those skills on to the next generation.

I look around my neighborhood now and much has changed, however the memory of the Men who inhabited it still holds strong for me. Their names are beating in my throat! Oh well, here they are!

My Mahaffy, Mr. Mason, Mr. Washington, Mr. Eli, Mr. Greenlee, Mr. Adams, Mr. Nunn, Mr. Williams, Mr. Brown, Mr. Utterback, Mr. McDaniels, Mr. Bell, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Long, Mr. Carter, Mr. Doug, Mr. Amoroso, Mr. Davis, Mr. Kindle, Mr. Tyson, Mr. Lavelle, Mr. Hord, Mr. Agnew, Mr. Spearman, Mr. Milliones, Mr. Blakey, Mr. Branch, Mr. Shelton, Mr. McCroy, Mr. Smith, Mr. Myers, Mr. Williams, Mr. Whack, Mr. Biggs, Mr. Turner, Mr. Bullocks, Mr. Marbury, Mr. Carl R. Southers and all of the other fathers not mentioned here.

Thank you all for shepherding us youngin's through the ups and downs of life, banding together to keep our neighborhood strong and safe. And most importantly assuring us all, that no one was fatherless in our hood.

I'm proud to have called my father Dad, Big Daddy Carl, Super Suds, Big Poppa and a few other nicknames that have escaped my memory. At his funeral I spoke about how some folks took his kindness for a weakness. That's a trait of his that I'm proud to have remnants of.

Until we meet again kind sir...

Onward!

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#99 My Prayer / Fireworks Pt 2

As I close in on completing this, my last and final chronicle, I find myself going full circle. I sit here in Kennywood Amusement Parks parking lot in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I can't help but to be in awe of my journey and just how far I've come this past year.

We're in the parking lot because of the rain. Earlier we went to Dave & Busters instead and then to a movie, but we raced back here for the 9:40pm firework display. I really wanted to be here with my family. It was my destiny to be here in this place, on this day. Walking and standing tall. As we watch the display I feel the urge to express my thankfulness.

If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to offer a personal prayer.

"I'm praying to the creator who exist outside of my understanding. The one who placed my being on the map of this vast universe. The spirit of the good creator that every human that has every existed has worshipped past and present. I'm asking this one, the one responsible for creating all of my man described senses, and filling them with wonderment. I'm praying to you on one and a half fully bent knees, asking that you do not give up on man and womankind, that you allow us many more centuries to correct the damage that has been inflicted upon this planet we named Earth so that our children and their children as a whole can honor you properly.

Dear creator one of the things that this automobile accident has taught me, is to not take life for granted. I have you and only you to thank for my existence. I also want to thank you for receiving the multitude of prayers sent your way from scores of friends, family and strangers on my behalf. I've learned that you can go about your life trying to make sure that you take the right steps but nothing is guaranteed to go as planned. Most times when something tragic happens to someone we throw up our thanks to you precious creator that it wasn't us in that predicament.

I'm quite sure that there are folks imprisioned right now that are shaking their head saying to themselves, "I didn't see this coming" or parents burying their children saying the same thing. But horrible things do happen. As we know they can happen to anyone at any phase of their lives. Some make it while others do not.

It's humbling to realize just how important things are that we take for granted. Right now I can't just get right up and go open the front door. I have to give myself a head start when it comes to going to the bathroom. Sometimes I get there early, sometimes on time, and every blue moon I arrive there late. That's never fun.

When I'm sitting or laying down its very easy to forget about my injuries and how it affects my mobility. But as soon as I attempt to get up, it all comes rushing back to me. It's sort of like the film Groundhog Day. Over and over each and every time I want to do something as simple as go into the other room or move to the couch or a different chair. It's quite disappointing, because early on I had getting better to look forward to, but now it feels as though I've reached a plateau of healing. I'm not complaining, I'm just realizing that this is just another phase in my life.

But I thank you dear creator for allowing me to continue to exist, if not for anything else but to enjoy watching my young children grow up. But it's been so much more of an extra blessing that I can continue to do the things that brings me joy.

I also want to pray to you dear creator, asking you to help those that have darkness dwelling in their hearts and minds. Please help them to find a way to your light. To gain the mental strength and understanding to be able to push harder to find a way to see and appreciate the beauty within your creation. As we surely face darker days across this planet and here on our own soil, please send a sign of correction. Please send a sign of hope for all to see, so that our minds that you created can become equally clean and strong. I offer this prayer to you and you only precious creator. Amen".

I find myself grinning once again, but this time up close and in person, opposed to depending on my imagination as I had no alternative last year from the confines of my hospital bed. I smile as I watch the wonderment on our childrens faces amongst the sporadic burst of bright lights and It pleases me to witness the calm and relaxed look on my wife's beautiful brown face.

I caress the back of my youngest son's neck as I gaze at the smoke from the fireworks and I follow it's trail up towards the heavens ... and I softy say "Thank you".

Onward.......

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