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I have managed to unearth the lyrics to a rap song by members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet. I felt it was my patriotic duty to release them here. Presenting…

“The Trump Cabinet Posse Cut”

 

I’m Jeff Sessions, these are my confessions

I wish the South had won in the War of Northern Aggression

The government prevents people as property or possessions

But this Attorney General promotes general oppression

I’ll put in late nights defending states’ rights

And squash all these attacks by blacks who hate whites

I’ve got you in my sights, I’ll fill your house with bugs

And lock up all these thugs using the war on drugs.

 

Yo, I’m Ben Carson and my gifted hands

Have been gifted with a job I don’t understand

I know success is 100% self-reliance

Pull yourself up from the bottom, it’s not rocket science

Or brain surgery; if it was I’d succeed

That’s the only way I know to help out people in need

But I’ll cleanse this agency like a biblical flood

As the black Elmer Fudd at the helm of HUD.

 

Gather round, kids, criss cross applesauce

I’m the boss, you can call me Betsy Devos

If you’re not born a winner then you’re taking a loss

I’m in charge of learning institutions across

The whole nation. Privatizing public education

My voucher system will restore segregation

It’ll be the biggest shift since Brown versus the Board

You’ll get the best education that you can afford.

 

I’m Scott Pruitt. Protect the environment?

I will not do it. Mother Nature could use early retirement

Climate change denier bent on wrecking the earth

Because if we don’t spend it we’ll never know what it’s worth

Do we really need to have clean water and air?

Well, maybe we do, but I really don’t care

If I restrict fossil fuels, what will BP say?

Let’s let the oil companies run the EPA.

 

Yo, I’m Rick Perry, Energy Secretary

And you’re not alone, even I think it’s scary

But if you’re wondering why you should trust me

I’ve got many reasons; I’ll give you just three

Number one, I passed my animal husbandry classes

As you can tell just by looking at my smart-guy glasses

Number two, I guarantee that I’ll support the troops

Number three… um… I can’t remember. Oops.

 

Yo, it’s about time that they let Rex on

I flex on you fools as the head of Exxon

My Russian connects and TexMex lexicon

Made me a great Secretary of State selec-shon

I’m friends with Russia, I have a medal to prove it

So much cash it would take a bulldozer to move it

And I don’t need the press following me around

You want to see real power? Drill it out of the ground.

 

There may be more verses yet to be uncovered. Stay tuned!

This is another play that I wrote for a class, entitled “The Heart of a Lion”.

 

 

CAST OF CHARACTERS

REGINALD……………………….…A young big-game hunter, age 25

LEONA…………………………………………A female lion, age 43 lion-years

Setting: Somewhere on the Serengeti plain in Tanzania

Time: Present day, autumn, shortly before dusk

 

(LEONA is napping on the grass near a group of trees. A

partially-devoured zebra carcass is on the ground nearby.

LEONA awakens to find REGINALD standing several

yards away, pointing a shotgun in her direction.)

 

LEONA

Whoa! Watch where you’re pointing that thing, man! You can hurt somebody. Haven’t you ever taken a gun safety course?

 

REGINALD

(surprised)

You can talk?

 

LEONA

(indignant)

Of course I can talk. I’m forty-three lion-years old. What do you think, I’m retarded?

 

REGINALD

I’ve just never encountered a talking lion before.

 

LEONA

Well, maybe you just never encountered a lion who thought you were worth talking to. My name is Leona. What’s yours?

 

REGINALD

(confused)

I didn’t know that lions had names.

 

LEONA

It seems there’s a lot you didn’t know. Your name, please?

 

REGINALD

(dumbfounded)

My… my name is Reginald.

 

LEONA

(politely)

Nice to meet you, Reginald. Now can you please stop pointing that thing at me?

 

REGINALD

Well, the thing is, I’m pointing it at you for a reason. I’m hunting you.

 

LEONA

(laughing)

No, you’re not. I know a little bit about hunting. If you’re hunting someone, you’re stalking your prey, trying to track them down, relishing the chase. But you’re standing here with a shotgun to my face. That’s not hunting; that’s threatening murder. Put the gun down, please.

 

REGINALD

I don’t think so. Who’s to say that the instant I put down this gun you wouldn’t rush forward and tear my throat out?

 

LEONA

Listen: I was just lying here minding my own business. I’m not interested in killing you. I already had half a zebra for dinner; you can have the other half if you want. Zebra tastes better than lion anyway, if you ask me.

 

REGINALD

Um… no thanks. I’m not hungry.

 

LEONA

(astonished)

Not hungry!? Then why the heck are you hunting?

 

REGINALD

Well… I’m hunting for a trophy.

 

LEONA

For a trophy!? What a ridiculous reason to hunt! You humans don’t make any sense at all.

 

REGINALD

(sternly)

Well, that may be, but my dear Victoria’s father forbade me to marry her unless I returned from this hunt with a lion. And I will marry Victoria. So make your peace with this world that you’re about to leave behind.

 

(LEONA stretches her neck, yawns, and grins)

 

LEONA

I’m already at peace with the world. Are you?

 

REGINALD

Don’t try to distract me, lion.

 

LEONA

It’s Leona, please. And I’m not trying to distract you. I do, however, want to offer you a deal.

 

(REGINALD lowers the gun slightly)

 

REGINALD

What kind of deal?

 

LEONA

How about this: if I show you where you can find some even better trophies; then will you let me go back to my children?

 

REGINALD

Better trophies? Like what?

 

LEONA

My husband. He’s abusive and lazy, and he mates with every other lioness he can get his paws on. Worst of all, his no-good brother just moved in with us after hurting his leg in a fight. Now the two of them sleep 20 hours a day and play the rest, all the time waiting for me to bring them food. I’m tired of it.

 

REGINALD

(surprised)

So you want me to kill your husband?

 

LEONA

And his brother. I’ve been looking for a way to get rid of them. So do we have a deal?

 

REGINALD

Two male lions? With manes and everything? They would make better trophies. But what if I don’t get them, or what if I get killed? Why should I take that risk when all I have to do is pull the trigger and bring you home?

 

LEONA

(shaking her head)

That’s just like a human: you’ve got a chance to experience the thrill of a true hunt, with a little risk involved, and your fear is holding you back.

 

(REGINALD raises the gun again)

 

REGINALD

(defensively)

I’m not afraid. You’re the one who should be scared. I’ve got the upper hand; I move one muscle and you die.

 

LEONA

(grinning)

That only proves that you’re afraid. Even if I couldn’t smell your fear in the air, I would know it from the gun. Guns are not the weapons of the brave. You kill from a distance, never allowing your enemy to get close. You are a coward. But against two male lions, it evens the odds a bit. I’m giving you a chance to be brave.

 

(REGINALD snorts derisively)

 

REGINALD

By sending me after two male lions? You’re not giving me a chance to be brave; you’re giving me a chance to die.

 

LEONA

But it’s the same thing, Reginald. We lions risk death every day. You might look around at these peaceful plains and think that life is easy on the Serengeti. But the truth is that the natural world is filled with untold dangers. Even in our place at the top of the food chain, we awaken every day with the knowledge that it could be our last.

 

REGINALD

Well, I didn’t wake up this morning prepared to die. And I won’t be smooth-talked into walking into a lion’s den.

 

LEONA

Well, you won’t need to enter the den. The sky is getting dark. When my husband and his brother awaken and realize that I haven’t returned with their dinner, they’ll come searching for me. If you hide out here, they’ll arrive before long. All you’ll have to do is shoot them with your little gun.

 

REGINALD

(pensively)

It’s still risky. I only have two shots before I need to reload. With two full-grown lions, I wouldn’t be able to miss.

 

LEONA

(grinning)

And that’s where the thrill of the hunt comes in. You never know what’s gonna happen. But if you want to truly be brave, to know what it’s like to have the heart of a lion, to prove yourself to Victoria and her father, then you will take the risk.

 

(REGINALD again lowers the gun slightly)

 

REGINALD

(hesitantly)

I don’t know…

 

LEONA

I’ll tell you what, Reginald: I will assist you. Shoot my husband first; you’ll know him by the streaks of red in his mane. He’s the stronger and faster of the two, but you’ll have the element of surprise. Be sure that you don’t miss. After that, shoot his brother immediately. His injured leg should slow him enough for you to take the shot. If you miss, I’ll keep him away from you until you’ve had a chance to reload. How does that sound?

 

REGINALD

(doubtfully)

How do I know that I can trust you?

 

LEONA

You don’t. But I swear on the lives of my children that I will do as I’ve said.

 

REGINALD

(thinking)

Okay, we’ll play the game your way. But you stay in front of me. If anything goes wrong, I promise I’ll shoot you first.

 

LEONA

It’s a deal. But we’ve got to be quick. The sky is turning red and the shadows are getting long. They’ll be coming soon. Luckily these trees are downwind from the direction of our den, and the zebra should help to hide your scent. Otherwise, my husband would be able to smell your fear.

(pauses)

But still: try not to be too afraid, Reginald.

 

(LEONA leads REGINALD to the nearby group of trees,

where LEONA crouches down in hiding. REGINALD

ducks down several feet behind her, with his gun at the ready.

A minute later two male lions approach, one with red streaks

in his mane and the other slightly smaller limping on its left

hind leg. The lions pause in front of the group of trees and

begin to sniff the air. REGINALD takes aim and fires, bringing

down the larger lion with his first shot. The second lion turns

and rushes toward the clump of trees. REGINALD fires again,

and the second lion falls dead. REGINALD emerges from the

hiding place, followed by LEONA.)

 

REGINALD

(excited)

I did it! It worked!

 

 

LEONA

I told you that it would. You just had to be brave, Reginald.

 

REGINALD

Now I’ll bring home two male lions as trophies: one for Victoria and one for her father. I don’t know how to thank you, Leona. Victoria will be so happy!

 

(REGINALD stands over the bodies of the two dead

lions. LEONA walks up behind him)

 

LEONA

(sadly)

She won’t be as happy as all that, Reginald.

 

REGINALD

(startled)

What? What do you mean?

 

LEONA

(emotionlessly)

I mean that you won’t be returning to your Victoria.

 

REGINALD

(frightened)

But… you promised! Leona! You swore on the lives of your children!

 

LEONA

(growling)

I swore an oath that I would help you kill my husband and his brother. Beyond that I made no promises. I’ve been true to my word, Reginald. Now make your peace with this world you’re about to leave behind.

 

(REGINALD instinctively raises his gun, aims at LEONA,

and pulls the trigger, but the weapon is not loaded. LEONA

roars and leaps on REGINALD, and his agonized screams

are heard as the lights fade to black.)

 

 

CURTAIN

 

 

 

 

Because I love you all so much, I’m sharing with you a short play that I wrote for a class. Enjoy!

“BIG LEAGUE CHEW”

CAST OF CHARACTERS

HEROINE………………………Age 24, a young superhero applying for membership to the League of Greatness, earnest and proud

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN………Age 32, the leader of the League of Greatness, a bit arrogant and self-righteous

THE TEMPTRESS…………………Age 28, a lieutenant of the League of Greatness, a little cynical, speaks in a sultry voice

TURBO-MAN……………….…..Age 28, a lieutenant of the League of Greatness, good-natured but lecherous

THE BARD………………………Age 31, a lieutenant of the League of Greatness, mysterious and aloof, speaks in rhyming quatrains

Time: The present

Place: Near Miami, FL. The Hall of Greatness, a base of operations for the superhero group known as the League of Greatness

Setting: A large circular meeting room. The wall is white and undecorated with no windows. There is a podium in the center of the room, with a long blue carpet leading to it from the sliding doors. Across from the doors, facing the podium, there is a dais several feet off the ground with a long table. The table is covered with a long blue tablecloth that reaches the platform and is decorated with the seal of the League of Greatness.

(CAPTAIN BEATDOWN, TEMPTRESS, TURBO-MAN, and THE BARD sit behind the long table on the dais. CAPTAIN BEATDOWN presses a button on the table on front of him.)

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Send in the next applicant, please, Secretary Girl.

(The door opens and HEROINE walks in and stands before the podium, looking up at the four figures on the dais.)

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
(dramatically)
Welcome to your interview for admission to the League of Greatness. I’m Captain Beatdown, and these are my lieutenants: Turbo-Man, Temptress, and The Bard. And according to your application…
(peruses application form in front of him)
…your name is…Narwhal Boy?

HEROINE
(confused)
No, sir, I think you’re looking at the wrong application. My name is Heroine.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
(shuffling through stack of applications)
My apologies, citizen. Secretary Girl hasn’t been the same since her mind was assaulted by Dr. Dementia last week. Frankly, she’s been screwing up the paperwork. Ah, here it is: Heroine… isn’t that the name of a drug?

HEROINE
Yes, sir… but it also means a female hero. That’s the dictionary definition, in fact.

THE BARD
(theatrically)
The League of Greatness shan’t endorse
Illegal drugs of any kind
If you intend to join our force
Then change your name, or change your mind.

HEROINE
But I’d rather not change my name; I’m sort of trying to build a trademark and… what’s with the rhyming?

TEMPTRESS
(bored)
The Bard always speaks in rhyme. That’s his trademark. And it gets old.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
That may be true, Temptress, but the Bard has a point. We musn’t send the wrong signals to the young citizens.

HEROINE
With all due respect, sir, you’re Captain Beatdown. What kind of message is your name sending to the “young citizens”?

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
That “When Evil is the Question, Violence is the Answer”. It’s the League of Greatness motto. It’s on our seal.

(CAPTAIN BEATDOWN points to the seal on the podium.)

TURBO-MAN
I’ve always hated that motto. I do like your name though, Heroine, and I personally don’t think you should have to change it. But Captain Beatdown prefers for us to have names that are representative of our abilities. For instance, he goes by that name because he… well… beats villains down. Temptress here can get into their minds and entrance them.
(winks at HEROINE)
I call myself Turbo-Man because I’m the fastest man alive.

TEMPTRESS
Which is not as attractive as he thinks it is.

HEROINE
And what about the Bard? What’s his ability?

THE BARD
I remain a mystery to most
My mastery is over time
As history reveals her ghosts
I use their aid in fighting crime

TEMPTRESS
(yawns)
What he means is that he has the ability to summon ghosts from the past. That’s why he calls himself the Bard; it’s a Shakespearean thing. Macbeth and all that. A bit cheesy if you ask me, but—

THE BARD
(sneering)
Forgive me, my dear, for the sin
Of not possessing thy allure
But I can’t, I fear, ever win
If you keep dressing like a whore.

(TEMPTRESS flips THE BARD the bird.)

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Okay, that’s enough of that. It does get old, Bard. Anyway, we need to think of a new name for Cocaine here.

HEROINE
(sighs)
That’s “Heroine”.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Of course it is. Well, let’s look at your abilities…
(peruses her résumé)
Hmm… Powerpoint… multitasking…forensic pathology… here we are: superhuman strength and agility. Not bad; I’ve got those powers too! Maybe you can change your name to Beatdown Girl or something.

HEROINE
(distastefully)
Um… I’d rather not, thanks. In my opinion, my name is related to what I do: I’m a hero, first and foremost. I’ve saved lots of lives, and I’m proud of my accomplishments. My name reflects that pride.

(CAPTAIN BEATDOWN frowns and jots something down.)

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Okay, well we can come back to the name thing later. So tell us why you chose to apply to the League of Greatness.

HEROINE
Well, I’m from Gainesville, and I’ve always heard that the League of Greatness was the place to go if you want to move up in the Florida superhero community.

TURBO-MAN
(surprised)
You’re from Gainesville? They were on the top ten list of U.S. cities with the most improved crime rate over the past five years. Very impressive. Captain, I think she’d be a real asset to the team. She’s not only hot; she’s capable too.

HEROINE
(blushing)
Thanks, but I didn’t work Gainesville alone. I had a lotta help from Moonshine Man and the Gator Crusader. But now that we’ve cleaned up that town, I think those two can handle it by themselves. I’m ready to move up to the big leagues.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Well, you’re right about this being the big leagues. We don’t just catch bank robbers and bust up meth labs. We battle real world-class supervillains, the likes of Dr. Overkill, Robot Christopher Columbus, Professor Hitler von Satan, and Rupert Murdoch. Are you prepared for enemies of that caliber?

HEROINE
Definitely. I did single-handedly bring down the Human Skunk.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Yeah, but he was a second-rater at best. I don’t see any truly impressive villains on your résumé. You still seem pretty small-time to me.

HEROINE
(indignantly)
I can hold my own against any villain that you can. I am not small-time!

THE BARD
The lady doth protest too much;
With wind to wing, and taking flight
Ambition lifts her in its clutch
To drop her from a higher height.

TEMPTRESS
Give it a rest already, Bard. Heroine has great credentials; there’s no reason to think she couldn’t handle high-level combat.
(picks up copy of HEROINE’s application)
In fact, it says right here that she already has an archenemy.

HEROINE
Yes, my nemesis in Gainesville is Immovable Man.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
I see. Well, we try not to separate heroes from their archenemies. Do you know if he’d be willing to relocate?

HEROINE
I doubt it. He’s immovable.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
(Frowning and writing something on his notepad.)
I see. Okay, next issue: we’d have to do something about your outfit.

HEROINE
(defensively)
What’s wrong with my outfit?

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
It’s not quite… sensual enough. You’d need to shorten that skirt a bit and show more cleavage.

TURBO-MAN
Now that I agree with.

TEMPTRESS
Of course you do, Pervo-Man.

TURBO-MAN
(winking)
You know you love it, babe.

HEROINE
Wait… why do I need a skimpy outfit to fight crime? I’ve done just fine without it until now.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Maybe so, but when you move up to the big leagues it’s about more than just fighting crime. Cleaning up the streets and saving the world are all well and good, but they’re nothing without marketing. Do you have any idea how high the rent is on the Hall of Greatness? We need endorsement deals, and sex sells. That’s why Temptress has the best-selling action figures and Halloween costumes.

HEROINE
(shocked)
But the Bard just accused her of dressing like a whore!

TURBO-MAN
That’s just their normal back-and-forth. Besides, I think the Bard…
(lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper)
…prefers the company of men, if you know what I mean.

THE BARD
(startled)
What!? He’s lying!

TURBO-MAN
(laughing)
Ah, now he forgets to rhyme.

HEROINE
Well, this is all very amusing, but I take being a hero very seriously. I’m not going to dress like a prostitute just to help move merchandise. Um… no offense, Temptress.

TEMPTRESS
None taken.

CAPTAIN BEATDOWN
Well, I have to be honest with you, Crystal Meth; I don’t think you’re a good fit for our organization. Unless you’re interested in administrative work; I am thinking of replacing Secretary Girl.

TEMPTRESS
Must you always be so insulting. Her name isn’t even Secretary Girl; it’s Susan.
(to Heroine)
Sorry, Heroine. As you can see women still don’t get the respect we deserve in the superhero community. But I like your tenacity and I vote to accept you as a member of the team.

THE BARD
In judging you, I will be just
And paraphrase what Shakespeare knew
That, upon some, Greatness is thrust
But not upon those such as you.

TURBO-MAN
The jackass means he votes no. But don’t worry, sweetie, I’ve got your back. And I think Temptress has ways to convince the good Captain here to change his –

HEROINE
You know what? Forget it! I thought you guys were serious about fighting crime, but you’re just a big joke!
(looks at CAPTAIN BEATDOWN)
You’re a moronic pompous asshole who only cares about image and profit.
(looks at TURBO-MAN)
You’re a sexist pig! How can the fastest man alive still be stuck in the 18th century?
(looks at TEMPTRESS)
You seem nice enough, but your only power is to attract bad guys. No offense, but I’ve been doing that since I was thirteen.

TEMPTRESS
(smiles and flips hair)
Again, no offense taken.

HEROINE
(looks at BARD)
And you… first of all you’re so flaming I’m surprised your cape doesn’t catch fire. Second, that rhyme thing? Ridiculous. And even your power sucks! Summoning ghosts? How does that help anyone? You’re a joke! You’re all a bunch of jokes!

(HEROINE turns around and storms out of the room. There is a moment of stunned silence. Then THE BARD speaks.)

THE BARD
Take heed my friends, and understand
The lesson to be learned this day
Let everyone throughout the land
Behold the truth: I am not gay!

TURBO-MAN
(to audience)
The fellow doth protest too much, methinks…

CURTAIN

They don’t directly warn you about the handcuffs, for reasons which might be obvious. They tell you to turn around, and you know they’re coming – but somehow, at the same time you don’t really expect them. You don’t really anticipate the cold tightness of their grip or the instant helplessness they impart. I was directed toward the airport doors and I walked, hearing the two officers walking close behind me. The distance halfway covered, I heard the voice of the third officer, who I’ll call Superior (since he seemed to be in charge).

“Isn’t anyone going to hold him?”

The officer to my right lightly grabbed my arm and held it. He hadn’t thought it necessary. I didn’t either, but I had serious doubts about the necessity of the entire event. I continued my walk, focused on not focusing, determined not to look at anything except the images directly in front of me. They seemed to change abruptly, like a slide show: the floor, the door, the door opening, the police car.

The right rear door was opened and I was told to get in. If there’s a comfortable way to sit in the back of a police car with your hands cuffed behind your back, I haven’t had the practice needed to discover it. I would normally climb inside a car, using my hands to grab the seat and help guide my entry. If I’m getting into a car with my hands full, I kind of “drop” into the seat. The increased impact is usually unnoticed. This time I was rewarded with the clicks of the cuffs tightening on my wrists as they were pressed between my back and the seat. It hurt.

The ride wasn’t long, but the officer questioned me as he drove. Someone later told me that they don’t have to deliver Miranda warnings unless they’re doing a formal interrogation. If true, that seems to defeat the purpose if they’re able to “informally” question you. This questioning was framed as friendly banter, and I answered honestly without, I felt, incriminating myself. When dealing with police, I try to be the embodiment of cooperation. There’s too much at stake to lose my cool. So I cooperate, but I’m also wary.

I was driven to the Port Authority holding area and marched into the building. I was still in cuffs, but they were taken off once I was inside. Along with the cuffs, the meager contents of my pockets were taken: a debit card, driver’s license, and a dollar bill. I obeyed the order to face the wall and place my palms against it as I was patted down. I was then asked to remove my belt and shoelaces, which I also handed over to the officers. Superior entered just as one of the officers was about to take me to the cell.

Superior: “Aren’t you going to take his glasses?”

Officer: “Are you serious?”

Superior: “Yes, I’m serious. Take his glasses.”

So they took my glasses too.

Cell 1

It must have been between eight and nine o’ clock when I was placed into the cell. I didn’t have my watch or cell phone, and the clock on the wall in the next room – beyond the bars, through the hallway window, and twenty more feet away – was very difficult to read without my glasses. I surveyed my surroundings. The cell was at most eight feet by eight feet, and contained nothing behind the bars but a wooden bench, a stainless steel toilet behind a stainless steel partition, and a video camera mounted high in one corner. The central air was blasting, and I was alone in the clothes I’d been wearing for a summer day: a T-shirt and light pants. My shoes were loose because the laces had been removed, allowing the cold air easier access to my feet.

My first experience being locked in a cell. I had no idea how long I would be there and I had little to do for entertainment. The names and phrases carved into the bench provided little intellectual stimulation, and the posted signs on the hallway wall opposite the bars (readable only if I squinted) quickly lost their appeal. I took it that the rule against food and drink in the cell area didn’t apply to me anyway.

I was starting to understand how people become stir crazy, and I’d only been there – how long? I didn’t really know. But the thought of people going crazy gave me an idea of a way to entertain myself: I would make up a song about my experience and sing it loudly. I didn’t know if the camera in the cell had audio as well as video, but I hoped it did. My idea was that I would either amuse the officers with my song or make them think I was crazy. Either way, I would be entertained. So I began to sing, over and over again:

“Can’t tie my shoes with no laces

Can’t hold up my pants with no belt

Can’t have a conversation with no-body

I’m locked inside a cell all by myselllllfffff”

Maybe I was crazy.

If anyone heard my song, they didn’t let on. I was visited periodically by officers to verify my personal information, allow me to make a phone call, take me out and fingerprint me, etc. On the first visit, I asked if I could have a newspaper. Request denied. I was allowed to use a phone and call my girlfriend to make sure that she got home okay and to let her know I was safe. But after the phone call, there was again nothing to do. When I got tired of singing, I tried yoga and meditation. Eventually, I either fell asleep or blacked out sitting on the bench. The next thing I knew they were opening the cell to take me out and transport me. I woke up, and I was cold. So cold that I was shivering uncontrollably. Not constantly, but it spurts. A few seconds would go by, and I’d go through a violent spasm of shivering. While the officer was cuffing me for transport, another officer looked alarmed.

“What’s wrong with him? Is he missing his medication?”

“No. He’s just cold.”

I was marched back outside to a waiting police car, shivering every few steps. I tried to sit more gracefully in the back of the car, but again the cuffs tightened on my wrists. And the shivering made the discomfort exponentially worse. But I was quiet on the ride to Queens Central Booking, focused on regulating my breathing and trying to get the shivering to stop. Fortunately it did, before I made it to the next cell.

Cell 2

I was marched into Queens Central Booking and deposited in a receiving cell, cuffs still on. The cell was much larger than the one I’d occupied at the Port Authority, and I was not alone. There was a Latino gentleman there when I arrived; he appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties. And he was angry. He was yelling at the officers, cursing at them, saying that his cuffs were too tight and he couldn’t feel his hands. Sharing a cell was a new experience for me, and I was in no mood to interact with an agitated prisoner. So I sat on the bench on the opposite side of the cell and waited, listening to him rant and yell and curse and be ignored. Finally an officer came and opened the cell door.

“Come on.” The officer gestured for the prisoner to come with him.

The man, who had been pacing, sat on the bench opposite me and glared at the officer.

“No.”

“Come on.” The officer said, a little more forcefully.

“Where?”

“Don’t worry about where. Just come on.”

The man laughed at the officer and remained seated. “Where?” he asked again.

The officer seemed to realize he was losing the battle of wills, and his stubbornness was only making things more difficult for himself. He had other things to do; the prisoner did not.

“We’re taking you to the hospital like you wanted,” he said. “Now come on.”

And the man went, smiling, leaving me alone in the spacious cell. My hands were behind my back. My cuffs were also too tight, but probably not as tight as the other man’s had been. Either way, I was going to be silent until something occurred. So I sat and waited, and I was soon removed from the cell. My cuffs were removed. My few possessions were returned to me, to my surprise. I signed for them, and then I was taken in front of the camera for mug shots. They took pictures of my face, my profile, and of both my tattoos. Then I was able to put my glasses back on (to my great relief), and was led around the corner to a room where a clerk asked me questions about illegal drugs, medications, STDs, etc. I answered “no” to every question and then was asked if I wanted a sandwich. I looked to my right and saw a bin filled with what appeared to be shrink-wrapped wheat bread. I declined, and then was led to the next cell. In retrospect, I should have taken the sandwich.

Cell 3

I was taken to a cell that was about twelve feet by twenty feet, and filled with young Latino men. There were four, who I guessed were Puerto-Rican, sitting on a bench along the wall opposite the bars; one Mexican sleeping on the other bench on the adjoining wall; and another Mexican, sleeping on the floor on a make-shift mat composed of empty single-serving boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. I took a seat on the end of the bench where the first Mexican was sleeping. It was the only available seat in the cell other than the floor and the toilet, and the spot nearest the bars. The men on the bench were talking to one another and I was trying to mind my own business. So I sat watching the officers at the desk across from the cell until I heard someone say “Hey.”

I turned and saw the four Puerto-Rican men looking at me. Two of them, sitting next to one another, were obviously brothers. Another of them, who’d been the most vocal during their conversations, was now standing. He spoke to me again. “You’re the one they arrested at JFK?”

I didn’t know how they’d gotten that information; maybe they’d overheard the officers or the guards talking. But I nodded. “Yeah.”

“What was it?” asked the Puerto-Rican, the Spokesman for the group. “Drugs?”

One of the gifts of my upbringing is the ability to slip easily into the parlance of the street.

“Nah, man.” I said. “They got me on some bullshit. Ninja stars.”

The group broke out in laughter.

“Ninja stars? Are you serious?” One of the brothers on the bench.

“Yeah, man. I didn’t even know I had them in my bag.”

The men laughed more, and I relaxed a bit.

“You think that’s funny?” I asked. “Today’s my birthday.”

More laughter and comments of incredulity. But then Spokesman got serious.

“Man, they didn’t have to put you through all this for that shit. But happy birthday, man.”

“Thanks.”

And the men went back to their discussion while I went back to my staring through the bars. Later I heard them mention that the Mexican men had been picked up by Immigration. Normally they can only hold you for up to 72 hours without a court appearance. But it’s different, it was said, with illegal immigrants; they can hold you indefinitely. The Mexican men, I heard, had been there for over four days.

Cell 4

It was after two o’ clock in the morning (I could see the clock clearly now) and I was relieved when I and a few of the other occupants, including Spokesman, were taken out to be moved to a different cell. I had visions in my head of cots where we’d be able to sleep through the night in relative comfort. My hopes were dashed when we reached our destination. It was a fairly large cell, maybe about fifteen by twenty-five feet, but it contained nothing but the stainless-steel toilet, wooden benches around the walls, and the cold, hard concrete floor. I imagine that the benches, while hard, at least served to remove their occupants from the frigidity of the concrete. I say “I imagine” because I never got to find out: practically every inch of bench was occupied. There were seventeen other men in the cell with me, most of them already asleep when I arrived, some of them already resigned to the unforgiving floor. I saw then why I should have taken a sandwich from the bin: they were being used as pillows. With no soft surfaces to lie on, those in the know had held onto their meager meals in order to have a soft place to rest their heads for the night. I, without a sandwich, lay down on the hard, concrete floor and did my best to sleep restfully in the ridiculous brightness, the absurd cold, and the general discomfort of the cell. It seems to me that they don’t want people to be rested before seeing the judge in the morning. They don’t want you to be well-fed, relaxed, in any way on top of your game. They want you to be tired, sore, and hungry. That’s the only conclusion that I can draw.

I also feel compelled to point out that every man in that cell, along with every prisoner I’d encountered in that jail up to that point, was either Latino or black.

In the morning, after a sleep more fitful than restful, I had a conversation with Spokesman about how we were being punished without having been convicted. Guilty until proven innocent. A favorite topic of conversation in a jail where men are treated worse than animals in a zoo. We laughed when Spokesman smelled marijuana and we realized that someone in a nearby cell had snuck some in and was smoking it. Then we stopped laughing when the guards came to our cell thinking we were the ones with the weed. They realized it wasn’t us, but I don’t think they ever did find out who it was.

Spokesman was in for domestic abuse; he’d had a fight with his wife, it had gotten physical on both ends, and she’d called the police on him. He claimed he was the one who’d taken the most abuse. I didn’t know the circumstances, but it’s hard to judge a man when you’re in jail with him. I just knew that I had no one else to talk to, so there we were. I was hungry, and I looked forward to breakfast. Signs on the wall promised great things:

Breakfast – 8am – Cereal and fruit

Lunch – 1pm – Peanut butter sandwich or cheese sandwich

Supper – 6pm – Peanut butter sandwich or cheese sandwich

I great way to feed adult men for days on end. But still: I looked forward to breakfast.

I was to be disappointed.

Cell 5

I was moved to a smaller cell; there was one other person in it when I arrived, but he was removed shortly afterward. I didn’t know what time it was, but I knew that it was morning. There was a phone in the cell, and since I was alone I had unlimited access to it to make local calls. I called my sisters to find out what time it was and to get an update on what they were being told about my case. I should be able to meet with a public defender around 2pm, I was told, and to have my arraignment shortly afterward. At that time, it was around 7:30. I didn’t have long to wait for breakfast. So with no one to talk to and nothing else to do, I sat on the bench and closed my eyes.

When I woke up, I noticed that the people in the cell across from me had cereal boxes, apples, and cartons of milk. I walked up to the bars and waited for a guard to walk by.

“Excuse me, sir? I didn’t get any breakfast.”

He stopped walking, looked at his watch, and made a face. “They already brought breakfast.”

“I see that. But I didn’t get any.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

And he walked off.

I tried again with the next guard who passed.

“Excuse me, ma’am? I didn’t get any breakfast.”

“You didn’t get any breakfast?”

“No. I didn’t get any breakfast.”

She thought for a moment. “Okay. Don’t worry. I’ll get you something to eat.”

“Thank you.”

I sighed and sat back down on the bench. I was cold and hungry and my back ached, but at least I would get some food.

The guard came back about ten minutes later, and my heart sank a bit when I saw the cart laden with sandwiches and a large thermos. But at least I was getting something, and the sandwiches couldn’t be that bad, could they?

They could. The two sandwiches each consisted of two slices of a dry wheat bread. About a fifth of the interior surface of each sandwich was smeared with a substance that that seemed to be a mixture of peanut butter and plaster. Peanut plaster, I guess, which explains why there were smears of it decorating the walls and ceilings in most of the cells.

From the thermos, the guard had poured water into a small paper cup. I received this with my sandwiches, and took a small sip to help me swallow each mouthful of dry bread. Bread and water, essentially. I knew that some people had to wait in that jail for several days. I was glad to know that I probably wouldn’t be one of them.

Cell 6

The time passed slowly alone in that cell, before I was finally moved to the cell where, I was told, I would meet with the public defender. It was a large cell with three doors in the rear, each leading to a small alcove wherein one could sit on a stool in front of a Plexiglass window and talk to a lawyer on the other side. There were several men in the cell. I recognized the Puerto-Rican brothers from Cell 3. They were waiting in line to use the phones, and one brother was explaining their defense strategy to his doubtful sibling.

“Just stick to the story, yo. It wasn’t us. I’m gonna tell her to say that the dudes who did it had on black jeans; we have on blue jeans. Nobody else saw anything, yo. They don’t got enough evidence.”

“Are you sure, man? Cuz I don’t wanna go to prison.”

“We’re not goin’ to, yo; we just have to stick to the story.”

Also in the cell was a young black man who seemed surprisingly good-natured and energetic considering the circumstances. He’d found out from the brothers why I’d been arrested, and from then on he told the story to each person who entered the cell – embellishing it a little more each time. Within an hour the tale had become completely outlandish.

“Yo, this is my boy right here! He got caught in JFK airport with ninja stars and nunchuks and swords and shit!” He distinctly, comically pronounced the w in “swords”, and I couldn’t help laughing whenever he said it.

There was a Korean man who was keeping to himself near the front of the cell. He was, by this point, only the second prisoner I’d seen who was of Asian descent – also the second who was neither black nor Latino. I asked him what he was there for, and he told me it was drunk driving. He was clean-cut, with glasses and a buttoned shirt. He told me he’d been there for three days already, and was only then about to meet with his lawyer.

Another young black man was in the cell. He said that he was arrested after drinking alcohol from an open container in front of his house.

“I was stupid. When I saw the cops coming, I just stood there instead of going inside. They came up and asked me what was in the cup. I had finished it by then, so I said it was empty. But the cop smelled the alcohol. They searched me and found some weed in  my pocket, and that was it. Now I’m here, and they’re probably gonna send me back to the Bronx, too.”

“Why the Bronx?”

“Cuz I have an outstanding warrant out there.”

“For what?”

“Open container. I was drinking beer in the park.”

I didn’t want to laugh, but I couldn’t help it. Especially since, as he spoke, he absent-mindedly lifted his hand beneath his shirt to scratch his stomach. In doing so, he revealed the upper portion of his boxer shorts – which were printed all over with a three-word phrase: I LOVE BEER.

I had a conversation with another Latino man. It was a familiar conversation: guilty until proven innocent. We’d been treated poorly in that jail. Substandard food, filthy conditions, no comfortable place to sleep, and deprivation of freedom. Locked up for as many as three days, maybe more for illegal immigrants. And all before being given a trial, before a trial has even been scheduled. Certainly before any crime has been proven.

Cell 7, and epilogue

We were sent to another cell, but we stayed there very briefly before lining up in the hall for our arraignments. When my turn came, I entered the courtroom and stood next to my lawyer, facing the judge. I was happy to be leaving the jail behind me, and I was even happier to see my sisters who had been doing everything they could to help me from the outside sitting in the courtroom.

The judge quickly released me on my own recognizance and scheduled a court appearance for the following month. I flew back to Tampa on the first flight I could get, and then I went back to business as usual.

When the time of the court date arrived, I flew back up to NY. My attorney was pushing for a dismissal of charges. As a condition of dismissal, the district attorney’s office was pushing for community service hours – which I would have been happy to do as opposed to a fine or additional jail time. So my lawyer told the judge that we would agree to the community service, and asked if I would be able to do it in Florida rather than New York. The judge looked at the prosecutor.

“This is his first offense, right?”

The prosecutor shuffled through some papers.

“Umm… yes.”

“Then why are we even talking about community service? Is there any reason we can’t do the dismissal without the community service?”

She shrugged. “I guess not.”

The judge ruled for the dismissal, and I was free to go.

I’d never been arrested before, and I had no real idea what the experience was like. I’m telling this story to share the experience with anyone who might be interested. It wasn’t what I expected based on fiction that I’ve read or that I’ve seen on television. The story is factual, although it is edited for space and style, and conversations are paraphrased. I hope you found it interesting and enlightening. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

 

“If we all could just admit
That we are racist a little bit,
And everyone stopped being
So PC
Maybe we could live in –
Harmony!”

Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, Avenue Q

Though I have an inherent distrust of the wisdom of puppets (is that racist of me?), the gang at Avenue Q have a bit of a point. I think the nature of our society causes us to feel more comfortable around others who share similar backgrounds to ourselves. While I don’t necessarily agree that everyone is racist, I think that we need to recognize our prejudices if we’re going to move past them.

Before relating a story about some racist rhetoric she’d encountered, a friend of mine prefaced her tale with the following statement: “You know a lot of white people are racist…”

I shook my head, not willing to accept the implication of her premise: that racism is a characteristic present primarily in people of western Eurasian descent.

“A lot of people have prejudices,” I said. “And a lot of it simply stems from a lack of understanding of other people and their points of view, or a lack of adequate exposure to different cultures. But there are people in our society who take advantage of cultural misunderstandings and uncertainty to pit us against one another. I believe that the majority of people who express racist sentiments do so as a result of having been deliberately deceived. If a person is consistently taught that another racial or ethnic group is causing the oppression of his/her own group, it’s likely to breed bigotry.”

Well, I said something like that, at least. I don’t have a transcript. It probably wasn’t that eloquent.

Anyway, my friend backpedaled a bit, seemingly surprised that my girlfriend and I didn’t readily agree with the idea that “a lot of white people are racist.” By the way, my friend is white.

I’m half white and half black (Barackian, as I enjoy saying). I spent my most formative years influenced primarily by black U.S. culture — you know, hip hop & chitterlings & family members in prison. Still, I make a concentrated effort in life to look at things objectively. I still believe that most people want to be good people, to do the right thing. But peer pressure and propaganda are proven methods of  throwing good people off track.

A while back, I updated my Facebook status with the following:

“Your enemy is NOT another race or another ethnicity or another nationality or another religion. The only true disparity in this world is political and socioeconomic. If you have an enemy, it is those with power & wealth who pit us against one another in order to maintain & increase their control. If you’re a bigot, you’re a tool. Literally. That is all.”

I was moved to write that after reading some comments that someone had posted to a news article, comments which referenced problems being caused by the “groidian nation”. A quick Google search (don’t do it) confirmed my suspicions: that the term “groidian” was derived from the term “negroid”; in effect, it was a racial slur that I hadn’t previously encountered. People tend to be braver when posting things online; the anonymity gives them the courage to say things that they wouldn’t say in public. And people who reply, either in agreement or dissent, only tend to amplify the sentiments of the original commenter.

Though my Facebook posting was meant to be thought-provoking, it admittedly was not very well thought out. (There’s only so much stupidity that I can see without getting a bit frustrated with the sources.) So I wasn’t very thorough in my argument, and I received a bit of a rebuttal to the effect that our real enemies are those who convince us that we as individuals are not capable of shaping our own lives. My response?

“I agree that to convince a person that they are less capable than they are is a form of attack. I was moved to write what I wrote because I’m tired of seeing bigotry online & elsewhere. I’ve seen it from black people & white people, from conservatives & progressives, from religious people & nonreligious people. Usually, along with the bigotry comes an attitude that ‘this group of people is oppressing my people or attacking our way of life, thereby keeping us from living how we want to live or being as successful as we want to be.’ I believe that this attitude is intentionally perpetuated in order to maintain political and economic power. I think the enemy that you mention is actually the same enemy that I mentioned (at least in part). Because convincing some people that they are weak (often along demographic lines) feeds into the separatism and segregation that weakens us all as a society. And it’s done in order to maintain political power. That’s the way I see it.”

That one, by the way, is an exact quote.

See, I do believe (as I said earlier) that most people want to do the right thing and be good to one another, regardless of skin tone, ethnic origin, religion, or favorite ice cream flavor. But many of us, as we go about our complicated lives full of uncertainty and high fructose corn syrup, are vulnerable to manipulation by people who benefit from our division and distrust.

Which brings us to the recent drama involving the NAACP, the Tea Party, Andrew Breitbart, Shirley Sherrod, the media at large, the Obama Administration, Sarah Palin… pretty much everyone.

It began when the NAACP announced a resolution stating that the Tea Party should condemn the racist elements within it. Some Tea Party representatives, completely missing the point, responded by accusing the NAACP of both racism and race-baiting. Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams, for example, commented on the “absurdity of a group that calls blacks ‘Colored People’ hurling charges of racism.” (Colored people, of course, was a euphemism at the time the organization was founded. Back then black people were typically referred to with even less desirable terms. Although I don’t think groidian had reared its ugly head yet. The NAACP, of course, keeps its initials in order to keep its legacy. But it rarely refers to itself as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.)

Sarah Palin went so far as to imply that racism was defeated by President Reagan. Her references to this country’s “past racism” and to the idea that Obama’s election should have signaled a “post-racial” America would seem to be either naive or deceptive, especially considering the fact that she fought so hard to prevent Obama’s presidency and continues to question his qualifications.

Such defensive responses to the NAACP resolution were common among Tea Party members who thought (and were led to believe by conservative media) that they were being called racists. In fact, they were simply being asked to recognize that there were racists trying to take over their organization in the public eye.

The Tea Party is not a racist organization. It’s a collection of loosely affiliated groups that, at its core, is opposed to the expansion of government. The problem is that the Republicans, perceiving the popularity of the Tea Party and its (mostly policy-based) opposition to President Obama, deeply infiltrated it. And the Republican Party does contain a lot of anti-black racists, who are now difficult for the rest of us to distinguish from the earnest fiscal conservatives.

Why the mostly-Libertarian Tea Party allowed themselves to be hijacked is anyone’s guess. It may be that the loose organization and veneer of shared principles made it easy for Republicans to co-opt. Or maybe the Libertarians thought that they could tame the Republican beast and bring the GOP to their side of the fence, that their shared goals would be enough to overcome their differences. Of course, Libertarians and Republicans are worlds apart on so many issues — abortion, capital punishment, drugs, gay marriage, nation-building, capital punishment, etc — that a happy union was never in the cards. In fact, by allowing the Republican Party to take control of their movement, the Libertarians may have blown their best chance at becoming a viable third party on the national stage.

Anyway, back to the drama. As retaliation for the NAACP resolution, media hacker Andrew Breitbart decided to disseminate a heavily edited video that appeared to show a black USDA employee talking about using her authority to discriminate against a white farmer. In actuality, she was giving an example from her past in order to illustrate the point that discrimination is wrong. But, not for the first time, Breitbart’s media hack operated according to plan: the conservative media ran the story without fact-checking, thereby guilting the rest of the media, the NAACP, and the Obama Administration into reacting in kind.

Andrew Breitbart’s goal is to stoke racial fires by convincing white people that they’re being oppressed, disenfranchised, or disadvantaged because of their race. This is the same tactic that has been employed by conservatives such as Glenn Beck, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Rush Limbaugh, and others. Why do they instigate the racial divide in this way? Because it’s making them lots and lots of money. With the recession and the half-black President, conditions are perfect for them to convince as many white people as possible that black people are somehow taking over the country and destroying its traditions. And they’re able to convince these people to buy their books and listen to their shows and donate to their candidates.

Many black people have been convinced for years that white people are their enemy. It used to be true to a large extent, but many individuals and organizations have taken advantage of perpetuating and magnifying that perception in order to profit off of the discord that arises.

The way to battle that perception is to convince black people that white people are no longer oppressing them, not to convince white people that the reverse is true. That only makes the problem worse, and that’s why the racial situation in this country is not improving.

We all need to tune out the voices trying to influence us, and we need to see one another as human beings. We all have emotions, we all go through struggles, and we all seek happiness and comfort in a sometimes difficult world. We need to stick together, to work together, if we’re going to advance as a society and as a species.

As usual, these are just my thoughts. Feel free to comment.

Peace.

I was reading an article on msnbc.com entitled “The 8 lowest-paying jobs in America”, and it begins with the following sentence: “The United States may soon have to replace the expression, ‘the land of opportunity,’ with ‘the land of low wages.'”

The idea is that many workers in this country make very low wages, and the percentage is likely to increase as the post-recession job market introduces more lower-paying  jobs than anything else.

But it got me thinking about some of the slogans we use in the United States, and how they tend to portray us in more favorable light than we might deserve. If this country were a product, a case could be made against us for false advertising. So I decided to come up with versions of the slogans that communicate a bit more… humility.

1. The Land of Opportunity – “The Land of Low Wages” doesn’t seem to tell the whole story. For this one, I’d go with “The Land of Corporate Opportunity”. Despite all of the regulations that we have in place, corporate entities are still able to take advantage of workers, customers, and citizens in a variety of ways. The US poverty rate in 2008 was 13.2%. A lot of hard workers lie below that poverty line, many of them without health insurance or other benefits. And the rest of us continue to be taken advantage of by banks and credit card companies. True, an opportunity means nothing if one declines to make the most of it. But it would be nice if corporations didn’t get so many opportunities to break our stride.

2. The Land of the Free – This one is really hard to reconcile with the fact that the United States imprisons more people (and a higher percentage of its population) than any other country on Earth. Many incarcerations are the result of  victimless crimes, unreasonable statutes, and various types of profiling. Throw that together with an economy that was originally built on human slavery, and I think I would give the United States a very different slogan: “The Land of the Locked”.

3. The Melting Pot – This conjures the idea of a smooth blend of cultures that combine together to create something new and wonderful. But I think the reality is a bit less idealistic. So I’m going to go with “The Stew Pot”: a country where the flavors of the different ingredients touch one another, but they remain (for the most part) distinctly separate ingredients. Don’t misunderstand me; there’s nothing wrong with a nice stew. The problem arises when some ingredients are deemed less important than others, when certain flavors attempt to overpower the rest.

In case any of you are getting the wrong idea: I love this country. But, because I love it, I want it to be the best that it can be. We don’t make things better by pretending that they’re already perfect. With that spirit in mind, I don’t hesitate to point out what I perceive as flaws. If we keep hiding behind idealistic slogans, we’ll never reach our peak.

Do you have any slogans that you would apply to the United States? Please share!

After the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12th, there was an outpouring of support from sympathetic people all over the world. But in the six months that have since elapsed, a lot of that initial attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis has faded.

It’s not that people don’t care anymore. It’s just that we’re still living our own lives, dealing with our own daily struggles. Worrying about our economic situation, about the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, about the wars we’re involved in on the other side of the world. About our own illnesses, our healthcare, our futures. Six months is a long time to think about something we don’t see, and media coverage of the Haitian catastrophe has all but ceased in recent months.

On top of that, we never felt like there was much we could do to help in the first place. They told us to send money and supplies. Many of us did, but it felt like a practically useless gesture. We’ve made donations and prayed, but mostly we just sat and watched, feeling helpless.

This is not intended to make anyone feel bad. I only want to set the background for the link I’m going to share. One of my favorite rappers, Immortal Technique, visited Haiti recently and wrote about his experience. Since I was unable to visit, I thought I’d share the words of someone who did. The opinions expressed are not necessarily my own. But regardless of whether or not you agree, I think that the perspective is valuable.

Here is Immortal Technique’s story, if you’re interested. Please keep Haiti in your thoughts and/or your prayers.