Thursday, February 24, 2011

[Lifestyles] They live among us

A couple of years ago, after I retrieved the mail from the mailboxes from the lobby of my apartment building, I waited by the elevator which seemed to take forever to come. As I waited there, my neighbors, a mother and daughter, who I rode down with were chatting about something that I wasn’t paying any attention too. When the elevator door finally opened I held the door for them. They said “thank you” and smiled. The truth of the matter is I didn’t like this pair at all. They’re both glorified baby sitters, making their general incomes by watching children from around the neighborhood, which I have no idea why anyone would leave there child with them. The daughter has 3 children of her own with the youngest by this crip gang member I used to be friends as a child. Now, we barely speak except for greetings, but I could care less for that. Every now and then, I would watch as the dysfunctions of their family would play out for the whole building to see. The mother screaming at her grandchildren, throwing them out of the house and locking them out for hours in their underwear so they would have to sit on the cold stairs and use the incinerator as a bathroom, hitting them with belt or whatever she could get her hands on. The daughter, the children’s mother, was no better as she was always in the hallway with her “boyfriend” the crip, smoking blunts (which I caught her kids doing as well) or getting into fights with her daughter that were sometimes physical. When I called the cops on them once after seeing the mother hit her grandson with a 2 by 4, my grandmother scolded me harshly about minding my own business. She didn’t want any problems especially from “those people” as she so loving put it. So just like everyone else in the building, I pretended to not see what was going on.

As the second door to the elevator was about to close, it suddenly stops and retreats back as the first door opened and a man, who only moved into the building a short while before, steps in. He greets everyone with a hello along with a smile and pressed his floor number. The condense space was suddenly became extremely quiet. No one seems to move or even breathe as we rumbling passed each floor. When we reached his floor, which was before ours, he turned to us and said “Have a good day”. After the man exited the elevator, the mother turned to her daughter and asked: “Who dat?” in a heavy island accent. “I don’t know” the daughter replied. “All that’s left in this building are strangers… Strangers and faggots” They both started laughing over there stupidity, with the daughter looking in my direction to join them. I said nothing, waited for the door to open and left them. As I was unlocking my door, I could still hear them laughing and I thought to myself that it was strange how they would condemn others or make fun of people with a family they have.

However, they were right about one thing. The apartment building had become a place full of strangers. After the new landlord took over my building, a lot of things changed. People who had lived there for decades like my family were moving out, the rents were being raised to dramatic amounts and different kinds of people were moving in. I underlined and bolded the word “kinds for a reason. Since the previous years I had worked in real estate, I could spot people who were a part of a certain program to get their apartments. Either you were receiving section 8, part of homeless shelter program or a member of a HIV/AIDS housing program. Since rent payments come straight from agencies, many landlords would take applicants because those were guaranteed payments. Suddenly there were crack heads and overtly gay men running around the building, much to the dismay of some of the residents. When my mother and I, had to clear up a mistake on their part concerning the rent (They said we were missing payments, but we had the receipts that proved that the money order was not only given to them, but cashed as well), one of the men in the office told us they were going to the building so much better. So what happen next? They fired the superintendent who ran the building like a tight ship. He would not allow people to smoke in the hallways, made sure that repairs were taken care of and confronted people who he knew did not live in the building. He was like this evil Puerto Rican watchdog that never let up. Within a year after he was dismissed, a disable elderly man was robbed, shot and killed in his apartment. Gang graffiti started to be placed on the walls though out the floors followed by all night parties in the hallways. The mailboxes in the lobby were broken into several times especially around the first of the month. A veteran was jumped and robbed, then had his apartment broken into several times. The “new” super, wasn’t new but actually managed the building the next door, another property acquired by the landlord, refuse to deal with the problems going on in my building. Heat was a rare during the winter months with complaints falling on deaf ears. The last time my grandmother had left the house by herself, a man she didn’t know tried to touch her. I don’t know what would’ve happen if it was for a neighbor who knew her and helped her in the building. When I asked her who this guy was she refused to tell me, but never went outside without my mother or me next to her. A drug dealer moved in next door which brought police pounding on our door by mistake one Sunday morning. Finally in 2008, someone shot and dumped a man’s body behind my building. The news story about his death contained only 88 words and gave incorrect info, but that was it. Nothing was ever resolved. As this urban renewal around my block started bring in new stores like Raidoshack, Dollar Deals, Family Dollar, Pay Half, etc. the people in this neighborhood are not embracing the changes but wallowing in self misery.

Awhile back I wrote a blog called {Welcome to the Neighborhood... NOW GET OUT!}, I talked about the drug dealers that moved next door to me and the sexual predators around the neighborhood, but I have another little story to share about this guy… since I do not remember his name; I am going to call him Frank. Frank moved into the building shortly after the new landlords took over, with his pregnant daughter and son-in-law. There were quiet, kept to themselves and made movements only at night. When I was around them, I always got this feeling that something was not quite right with them. I thought his daughter had the deadest eyes, like she was walking around but no one was home. I would see Frank every now and then over the years, but shared no words with him. Last year, when I would come home at crazy hours of the night from work, I would stop at the “L” (The shopping district around the elevated train station) to get dinner before I headed home to crash. Walking home, I would see Frank panhandling in front of the McDonalds. The first time I saw that, I didn’t pay it any attention, but after seeing it a dozen or so times where he even asked ME for change, I knew something was fishy. I would wonder how can he afford to live in the apartment building if he is out here panhandling when new apartments go for a thousand dollars a month.

Towards the end of last year around late summer/early fall, I was walking into my building, tired from work. Like second nature, I went to check the mailbox the moment I went pass the foyer and there was Frank standing there in the lobby with 2 other men I had never seen before. One guy was tall and lanky with a beer bottle in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. The other guy was short wearing basketball shorts, a wife beater and had a number of tattoos, one being a Puerto Rican flag on his neck. The 3 men stood around, nervously pacing when another guy came into the lobby. Frank took him to the side and the two other men just stood there talking to one another. I had my headphones on blaring music and wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. As I waited for the elevator, another tenant approached and as I opened the elevator door for everyone, when Frank and the short guy refused to go in. The tall guy looked at them and shook his head in disgust. In the elevator, the tall guy went off about Frank. “Fucking crackheads” he started. “Talking shit, how they trying to be dealers when they smoke up everything.”


The red flags were going off like crazy. Frank was crackhead. Even though I didn’t care about it, everything started to make sense. As the taller guy started to really go in about Frank and his life, I kept thinking to myself that this was more information that I wanted to know. Everything done in the dark comes to light. Behind every door in this apartment building holds secrets that no one want other to know. Over the last two months, 5 people moved from the apartments on my floor. The landlord sent crews to pretty them up, but I have a feeling that they is just going to move more and more people like Frank into the building. Shuffling more and more of the destructive bottom 10 percent of our society from place to place who brings nothing good to the lives of others.

Oh and by the way, I don’t know if it matters or not, but Frank is white.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

[My Life] Happy

I am happy. I get to hang out with one of my brothers this week and I haven’t seen him in almost 5 years. Plus I get to meet for the first time, my sister-in-law, my niece and my 2 nephews. It is an amazing feeling leaving me on cloud 9. This year, I turned 30, get to hang out with brother, started the process of changing my last name and later this year Vegas. Hopefully, I will have a good job by that time making the same amount of money or even more than I did before I was laid off, BUT I am not holding my breath on that since there are so many people in my situation. While both of my older brother’s live aboard we all have stayed in contact through phone calls and e-mails, but it feels great to actually see one of them in person again. My mind is scrambling on things for us to do, but because of the season and the nippy weather, things are limited to indoor activities. The last time, both my brothers came to visit and we hung out at the Statue of Liberty (a week after my birthday on a cold January afternoon), a place they never been to and a place I haven’t seen since I was a child with my mother. Funny how you take for granted the things around you when it is just at your finger tips. During the next couple of days, we hung out at our Aunt’s house, joking, laughing, played dominoes as if we always knew each other. Notably, my mother was nervous about the union and I don’t blame her for that. I was nervous about it too especially since I received such a horrible reception from my father just a few years before and there was some ugliness that happen when they were here, but that was my father’s fault, NOT ours.

As I wrote before in Sins of the Father, my father did a lot of horrible things to the people around him. I am not going to go into what he has done, but I will say that one of those things he did was not allowing his children to know each other, hence why I only met my brother’s for the first time right after my 25th birthday. At first, I didn’t see what we had in common and I often wondered if we were not brothers would we be friends. Hell, would they even want me around? I used to tell them that no matter how long we got to know each other, I would always feel like a stranger because not only were they blood brothers, they grew up together and had shared much more. A part of me wanted to sabotage the relationship before it went anywhere. I thought I did not deserve something like this. Growing up a single child and then all of a sudden having 2 older brothers who actually wanted to get to know me was something I could not comprehend. But they were constantly encouraging, loving and at every moment embracing of me. Especially when I was going through the turmoil concerning my grandmother, they were there for me and supportive. Even if they couldn’t be here in the flesh with me, I knew that they were just a phone call away, willing to talk me down from some mental ledge.

For some time, I shielded myself away from most of father side of the family out of fear. I didn’t want to be hurt or disappointed by them again. I didn’t want to get to close and then thrown to the side. Not to mention the fact that I am the spitting image of my father and it is hard for some family members to look past it. I spent so much time trying to find these people and then… I vanished. It was a coward’s way out. I thought they would be better off not knowing I existed while at the same time hiding the fact that I was just scared they would turn out like my father. Well scared that I might be like him more like it.

Lucky for me, I have my brothers around to help guide me through some of the rough patches. I am really happy. Today is going to be a good day.


Monday, February 14, 2011

[Lifestyles] Happy Venereal Disease Day!

So today is another Valentine’s Day and I wanted take a moment to give a Valentine Day shout out to all the men out there who are spending the day, masturbating to busty Asian blonds, while others break their backs to impress the one they love. Yeah, as you can guess, I am not a fan of the day. Even when I was in a committed relationship, I made it known not to expect anything from me on this day because I always thought it was stupid to deplete my bank account and destroy my patience just for a pretty smile and 15 minutes of guaranteed sex. Doing special things for the one you love should come every day, sometimes even twice a day, but not on some manmade holiday that is just a gimmick for the greeting card monopoly.

I am going to leave those out there with some damaged pearls of wisdom. If you are going to indulge in your dollies tonight, remember VD also stands for Venereal Disease and it doesn’t take a holiday. Load up on the condoms, KY gel (Eros or Astroglide are much better) and tear the town or your friend for the night… apart. It is not going to be very special when you wake up with the hero ability to pee fire tomorrow morning. As for me, I am going to be relaxing in a nice hot bath watching the 3rd season of True Blood on my laptop while drinking a glass of Merlot and eating some chicken fingers.


Friday, February 11, 2011

[A Negro in Black America] AIDS in Black America (Pt. 1): The Awareness Gap

Did you know that February 7th was Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day? Funny. For some reason, I didn’t know about this day or had forgotten about it. Plus, I doubt that there are many in the African-American community that knows about this day either unless they are infected with the virus of course. It’s not heavily promoted like World AIDS Day, which is on December 1st, but it is one day that many people should take a moment to reflect on. Since we are no longer in the era where hospitals are filled with the skeletonized figures begging for death, the threat of this diseases is so minimized… almost as if it is on the same playing field as other chronic ailments like diabetes. Medications and images of people like Magic Johnson, who has been living with the virus for many years in the public eye, have giving to the illusion that everything will be okay with just a few pills a day. But let’s be real… New treatment doesn’t mean a solution since there is no money in a cure. Treatment is the ultimate cash cow now isn’t it? But I digress…

Over the last 10 plus years, HIV/AIDS in the Black community has sky rocketed, especially among Black woman, but that doesn’t seem to be headline news.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog (for those that followed me for a minute, it was during the Yahoo! 360 days, where social networking blogging was as simple as 1-2-3) concerning an ABC Primetime special which focused on the AIDS pandemic in the Black community. Thanks to Youtube (I posted the playlist onto my tumblr page (itsjustkenny!) for all those that would like to view the program for themselves), I watched the program once again and felt the same way I did back in 2006 when it first premiered. I remember sitting at my aunt’s house in New Jersey with a pen and a pad, taking down pages of notes of what I wanted to express, just to have people barely notice the blog until 2 years later when I reposted it to another social networking site.. The program itself wasn’t ground breaking or revealed anything that wasn’t already known. All it did was highlight five points on how the virus had effect the Black community.

The reasons were:
  1. 1.      The government’s ignorance and/or indifference on the toll this disease has done to the Black and Brown communities and the impact of celebrities who raise money for other countries HIV/AIDS relief programs instead places closer to home,
  2. 2.      The failure of the government to enact programs that have been proven to decrease the spread of the disease.
  3. 3.      The sexual habits of Black men and women.
  4. 4.      The “Down Low”, where men engage in homosexual acts but proclaim heterosexuality.
  5. 5.      The failure of Black leaders especially those in the highly held Black church, to take a stand concerning HIV/AIDS.

In this Blog I am going to discuss the first 2 of the 5 points. Since the cultural war of the 80’s, when the HIV/AIDS pandemic began, it was seen as only a White Gay Male disease. Many conservatives in congress during that time did not want government funds going to people who in their view were suffering from the effects of their anti-Christian lifestyle choice. In fact many did not want to even acknowledge the problem existed at all. There was a clear failure to see this as it was by President Reagan’s administration at least in the public eye. Silence created more damaged, because it allowed people to become influenced by ignorance, prejudice and misinformation which polarized the topic from progressing even further. While the stigma surrounding the HIV/AIDS may have changed throughout the years, in the Black community it remained the same. It was something that you did not discuss unless you had to and if there was some one that you knew with it then you had to not be around them out of fear. It was just a GAY WHITE DISEASE and the other ways that the virus was spread, like IV drug use, was not as focused on until it was too late.

When the war on drugs took hold in the African American community, pretty much moving a segment of the population from the street and into prisons, many were infected with the virus but did not know it. While I will go into the how prisons have helped in the stigma and spread of the disease at a later date, I will say this… Men who may have contracted the disease through IV drug use are put into an environment where condoms are prohibited but rape and relationships are known to happen, the once release will continue to partake in heterosexual relationships. This allows the virus and other disease to get quickly passed around. Both Bush administrations opposed providing money for programs like needle exchange, which provided clean needles to IV drug users (something that has been successful in other countries) instead of sharing needles with one another because they believed that programs like this would encourage drug use. As we all know, without the funding it could not get off the ground. The Clinton Administration took no action. While many thought he would support such a plan, he had no political capital to spend because of the scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Once again, the idea of funding something that could provide some kind of small solution was put on the backburner. The current Obama Administration has not taken a stand on this matter as well. Maybe because there are a whole host of problems going on with the world today, but with new medical technologies like stem cell research hope is on the horizon.

What the question that should be asked now is whether or not the government will follow suit and see provide the funding for something that is crippling the Black community. In a 2004 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, Gwen Ifill, asked both men about the government’s role in decreasing the newly infection rates among Black women. While Dick Cheney proclaimed ignorance about the infection rate and provided no real answer but vowed to “look into it” during his next administration, his democrat opponent John Edward did not do any better by talking about what’s going on with the AIDS effort in Africa and China. How that relates to African-Americans in the United States, I have no idea. Flash forward 4 years, during the 2008 presidential elections, in one of the Democrat debates which was moderated by Travis Smiley, every candidate gave impassionate statements about what they plan to do about AIDS in Black America if they were elected. The Republican candidates were never publicly asked or at least I cannot find a video at this moment of any of them talking about it. Besides the reauthorization in 2009 of the Ryan White Care Act by President Obama, there has been nothing really said on the matter concerning HIV/AIDS here in the states.

Aboard is a very different and complicated matter.

I used to hate seeing African-American urban and not so urban celebrities (i.e. Beyonce, P. Diddy, The Oprah, etc…) trot off to Africa to do a concert, hold a few press conferences about what they are doing in the AIDS relief front and be shown walking through a neighborhood with kids running around them. I thought it was asinine. I could not understand why it was so hard for them to do something here as well as Africa. What about a PSA or a foundation to benefit those living with the virus? What about a campaign that talks open and honestly about condoms usage or sexual relationships. Hold town hall meetings about how men and women should be honest about their sexual behavior and get tested together. Talk about how HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among Black women from the ages of 25-30. Hell, go on high schools, college campuses, rallies and parades and while popping bottles and just say protect yourself.

But the reality is… Things were really F-ed up there in Africa and it continues to be with sparks of success stories here and there. Like how the crack era took a whole generation of parents and children away from their families. The virus and a whole host of disease have done so over there. Generic drugs, proper medical facilities and qualified physicians, all the things that we take for granted here in the states, are sparse. More awareness is needed and the one (and ONLY) thing I used to praise former President Bush about was his handling of the AIDS crisis in Africa, by increasing the funding with The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR/Emergency Plan) which was a commitment of billions over five years. HOWEVER that is a double edge sword. If you look some African countries like Uganda, ultra conservatives American groups like “The Family” have successfully encourage AIDS stricken countries to drop the platform of condom usage, which was working to promote an “abstinent only” policy dealing with the threat of the disease and as a provision that 20 percent of the funding from PEPFAR must go to abstinent only programs. Powerful Evangelicals pastors have used their influence to encouraged government officials to be move to more of a faith base government. Our tax dollars are pushing this agenda, but it seems like no one is either admitting it or what us to know about it and current programs here in the states that those with the virus rely on are either underutilized, underfunded or unappreciated.

In the continuing global fight against HIV/AIDS, the world is forgetting about what is going on on the home front. HIV/AIDS is still infecting our communities and killing a new generation without the same outcry that came from the 80’s. With a disease continually on the rise, what can we do as a community to get our government’s attention…

Speak out!


[My Life] Morning Blaze.

The sound of helicopters was the first clue that something was wrong. It took me awhile to finally get some sleep and once I began to drift, the roaring sounds of helicopter broke the silence of the room. At first I ignored it, thinking it was just the police doing some kind of search or sweep or SOMETHING and it should just go away in a few minutes. After 5 more minutes when the noise didn’t go away, but get more intense as if it was right overhead, I walked over to my bedroom window which looks Kings Highway. As the sky was preparing for the new morning, it painted a rose canvas for the helicopters to glided over gray streams of smoke. Shit, I muttered. What the hell is going on now? The sounds of emergency vehicles came next, followed by the image of number of police cars and ambulances moving recklessly through traffic. Looking over my cluttered desk for my cigarettes, I came to the realization that had none left. Cursing as I grabbed some jeans from off the floor, I was hoping that the deli where I got my cigarettes from at a discount (10 dollars a pack while others in the area charge around 12 dollars) was open even through it wasn’t 6 a.m. yet. Even as I sleepily moved around my bedroom for clothes, more and more sirens can be heard outside. Kimmiko, my cat made her way into my room

Within the span of 10 minutes from first hearing the helicopters, I was out the door. The moment the hit the street, the blistering cold gripped me. I zipped up my jacket even further in hopes that it would provide more warmth. As I turned onto my block from my building entrance way a oceans of red and white light stood before me just on the other side of Kings Highway. Cop cars and emergency vehicles blocked off the area from the growing traffic. Curiosity was getting the best of me. I wanted to know what was going on.  

Since the Deli was on my block, I went there first. Surprisingly there were several people in line already playing lottery numbers. First this woman, dressed in some sweats, thin jacket and hair wrap called off her numbers, that I nonchalantly mentally saved in my own mind for later, then this Crip, I knew growing up shouted his numbers to the Arabian behind the counter joking with him at the same time “An OG told me I should write my numbers down instead of saying them, nahmean…” he told him. The guy just nodded and gave a polite laugh. I paid no attention to the dialogue, wanting to get the hell out of there before he asked me for change again. As the Crip was getting himself together, going through the shelves for some goodies, the Arabian guy came over to me and I asked for the cigarettes and a large cup of coffee. “Light and sweet, 8 sugars” I told him. He gave double take, as if he has never heard me order coffee like this before even though I am there almost every other morning. “Are you sure?” he asked in a heavy accent. I just nodded. He turned to the coffee maker saying something in Arabic then turned back and handed me my cup. I thanked him and exited the store.

While the sky was bright and sunny, the area before was draped in fog. As I approached the scene, the smell caught me off guard. I am not a fan of fires, especially since my grandmother’s accident. Seeing someone you love ablaze, burns itself in your memories for a lifetime. Shortly after my grandmother’s accident, there was an explosion in the building across the street from my house. The smell of the explosion lingered for days and as I got closer the smell triggered old memories that really wanted me to turn back, but only a few feet away, I ignored those feelings those feeling and continued on.

There must’ve been over 100 Firefighters and at least 25 fire trucks in the front of the NYCHA apartment building. Ladders were still extended to the roof and smoke was making its way from the top floors. At a safe distance across the street, I watched as EMT workers looked after some fire fighters in an ambulance and others that had collapsed on the pavement. As I started to take some snap shots of the area with my camera phone, this guy starting talking the head off of anyone around telling them what happen and how he got photos of it all. Children in groups or with their parent started to make their way to the JHS and elementary school up the block, passing the depressing scene. Some stopped and watched, while other hurried along. A man with son stop next to me, and asked what happen. I told him there was a fire and he began to laugh. “Housing is going to finally get in trouble over those damn boilers” he said as he held his son hand “Finally going to find to put that shit in the building”. That is when I finally remembered this place. For the last 4 or 5 years, the boilers have been outside these building managed by the NYCHA and they received a lot of negative press about it (LINK) last year. When I used to make my daily walks to Canarsie to see my grandmother in the nursing home, I would pass by these monsters hoping that nothing would spill out on me.

Suddenly, my hand began to swell and my fingers started to turn a pinkish purple. That’s when I knew it was time to head back home to warm up. I stopped at the deli once more and got a second cup. The Arabian was sweet talking to a girl who had dressed similar to the woman I had seen when I came in the first time. She was giggling while holding on to a loosie he handed her as I walked in.
“You’re back so soon” He said.
“Yeah…” I answered slightly laughing. “I went to see what was going on down the street”
“Oh yeah the fire… Is it out?”
“Yeah… but it’s a big scene”
“Where is it?” The girl asked.
“Over by the NYCHA buildings a block up” I told her gesturing as if the builds were right in front of us.
            “Oh you mean, by the Castle?” she asked, with a horrid expression.
Now the “Castle” was part apartment complex, part halfway shelter, part drug den and exactly across the highway from the deli. Both the Arabian guy and I gave her side eye glance.
            “Not the building across the street, the one with the boilers outside.”
“OOOHHHH!!!” she said.

So I made my way back home, dodging the kids that were getting off their school bus and running into the Charter school on my block and other adults that were making their way to where they had to be today. As I turned the key into the lock of my apartment door, I thought that this was an interesting way to start the day.

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