The Ball

Outing to duck pin bowling, with grand-kids on Friday, brought me back to this short story. One of those sucker prize machines had a yellow ball that caught the eye of my granddaughter Penelope. She was convinced that she would win the ball with her bowling prowess.

“Benjie, you don’t need that ball,” Shirley teased. Benjie bounced it on the floor, between the tightly packed rows of merchandise, then stopped to examine it closely, turning the brightly colored sphere slowly in his chubby hands.

“But, I want it,” he replied.

“You can’t always get what you want Benjie.” Shirley preached with the wisdom of her twelve years. “Besides, Tracey isn’t gonna buy it for you.”

Tracey was Benjie’s mother who stood at the register with his baby sister Caroline. Rolling her daughter forward in her stroller slightly, she turned to investigate the cause of the argument between Shirley and her son. Tracey’s blue sneakers squeaked against the tile floor as she turned slowly, controlling the movements of her tall, thin frame to conserve her limited energy. Long, wavy brown hair fell loosely about her brown face. Her full lips were parted slightly, as if the act of keeping her mouth closed required great effort. Gazing calmly through soft brown eyes, Tracey watched as Shirley pulled at the ball and laughed.

“Give me the ball Benjie so I can put it back. Why you want it so much, anyway? Look– it doesn’t even bounce straight.”

Shirley demonstrated as she bounced the ball and watched it rebound crazily against the shelves. Benjie shuffled after the lopsided ball and scooped it up safely in his arms. Standing halfway between her daughter and her friend Tracey, Shirley’s mother, Dolores, chuckled as Shirley again wrenched the ball free from Benjie’ s grasp and returned it to its wire basket, bringing tears to Benjie’ s eyes. He started toward the basket, but Shirley stepped in front of him, blocking his path through the narrow aisle.

Dolores shook her head and called to Benjie. “Leave it there Benjie. You don’t need it.”

Tracey finally spoke as her son shoved past Shirley and retrieved his prize from the basket. “Benjie, what’s goin’ on?”

“Shirley keeps trying to take the ball from me. Can’t I get it Ma?” Benjie sniffed.

Tracey looked patiently at her son; it was a patience born of fatigue. She felt Dolores’s eyes on her as she spoke softly.

“I don’t think so honey. Please put it back.”

“No!” Benjie shouted, attracting the attention of the other customers. The open defiance in Benjie’s unexpected outburst unbalanced Tracey and irritated Dolores.

“You heard your mother–Now put it back!”

“No! I don’t ever get nothin’ –Why can’t I have it?”

Benjie screamed through sobs, squeezing the ball against his chest as though it was a living creature he was prepared to shield with his body. A tear rolled down his brown cheek and splashed against the shiny surface of the ball. His desperate shouts frightened Tracey. She had never seen Benjie charged with such intensity. While it was true she had often had to deny him, he had always reluctantly obeyed her wishes. This Benjie was steadfast. Tracy turned toward Shirley as a sigh escaped her tired lips.

“How much is it Shirley?”

Dolores interrupted, “Tracey, you’re not gonna ….”

“How much is it?” Tracey repeated.

$1.89, but he don’t really want it Trace. He’s just actin’ crazy.” Shirley answered.

“I’m not crazy Mommy.” Benjie shook violently as he spoke. “Can’t I just have it this one time? Please Mommy–Please?” Benjie wailed to wake the dead.

Tracey’s lips moved noiselessly. They now had the full attention of the entire store. All looked on, awaiting Tracey’s decision, as if her child’s life was held in the balance. She stood motionless for several seconds, then removed a bottle of shampoo from the counter and silently returned it to the shelf. Deciding not to disappoint Benjie this time, she held two dollars out to her son.

“Here Benjie, go wait on line.”

Benjie brightened immediately and looked up at his mother with love and gratitude. He bounced the ball joyfully as he waited on line. The verdict in, the crowd broke up and returned to the business at hand. They did not see the tears that ran down Tracey’s cheeks as she walked out of the store.

claw crane

WRVR Jazz NY – Grover Washington Jr.

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Let’s face it, smooth jazz is elevator music. The background music for your visit to the doctor or dentist probably won’t elicit an emotional response or engender lasting memories. There’s a reason that serious jazz aficionados make fun of Kenny G. My favorite Kenny G diss was from Norm McDonald back when he was doing the news update on Saturday Night Live: “Kenny G will be releasing a CD fully comprised of Christmas songs. Happy birthday, Jesus – hope you like crap.”

Unfairly lumped in with other performers associated with the smooth jazz format, Grover Washington Jr. was a fine jazz musician, with a soulful style and gifted approach to melody. He was equally adept on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones. When I reminisce about Grover on WRVR, I think of the sounds of Mister Magic, A Secret Place and Winelight filling the air  as I cruised in my old Celica. 

Sharing one of my all-time favorites, East River Drive, by this underrated artist. To borrow the title from another Grover Washington Jr. classic, Let It Flow

WRVR Jazz NY – Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove was not quite eleven when WRVR pulled its jazz format, but his energy and talent exemplified the creative spirit of jazz, and of the station in promoting emerging young artists. The jazz world experienced a great loss with the death of Hargrove on November 2nd from cardiac arrest at the young age of 49.

Hargrove, best know for his work on trumpet and flugelhorn, continued in the tradition of the great horn players who came before him, such as Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy, Miles, Clifford Brown and Woody Shaw, while crossing over to modern forms of jazz, hip-hop and R&B.

While not familiar with Hargrove’s contributions, I heard several tributes this morning on WBGO, including a performance of September in the Rain, that caught my attention, and piqued my curiosity about his career. The announcer commented that Roy owned this song, and I have to agree. Sharing this live performance of the song from 1995, which showcases Roy Hargrove leading his big band.

Poison Deconstructs Karma

Credit to The Girl From Jupiter for the inspiration for this post, based on her poem Reverse Karma and the resulting conversation linked here:

Excerpts from the comments section are in bold italics.

I was born and raised a Catholic, so my viewpoint has a Christian slant. However, my wife is Muslim who grew up in Guyana where Islam was practiced in a relatively moderate fashion—my mother-in-law has led readings of Quran Sharif within the household on many occasions—and there was sharing of traditions with the Hindu community. My daughter, adopted from China, had a Buddhist blessing ceremony before we left the country.

A beautiful, old wooden Episcopal/Anglican church is a half-mile down the road from me. I was drawn to it by the energy of the woman pastor who led the congregation there, until she was forced to retire a few years ago. My daughter was baptized in the same church, while my older son was baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, then received his first communion and was confirmed as an adult.

You can argue that although not all Jews are Christians, all Christians were borne out of Judaism. I admire the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Jesus, Confucius, Martin Luther King and Malcom X for their courage and conviction. I have studied and embraced the philosophies and religions of the East, so you can say my approach is, “Any port in a storm.”

“goodness involves the ability to sacrifice — out of love.” Echoes my comment, “Love, and the concept of love, overrides all, even when at odds with basic instincts like self-preservation.”

You would choose to starve yourself to feed your children, or jump in front of a bus to save them from being run down, but real life rarely forces us to make such extreme judgements or choices. If your kids were hungry, you would take on a second job, or steal some food, but at the same time, we like to believe that we would act unselfishly when faced with life and death decisions, like the one made on June 29, 1983 by K.C. Chiefs running back Joe Delaney, who couldn’t swim, yet jumped into the water and drowned trying to save three children he didn’t know.

Love does imply attachment, which on the surface may conflict with Buddhist philosophy. It does align with the thought that any kind of attachment, or longing, will result in human suffering.

We speak of trying to be “Christ-like”, but if God is in Man’s image, he shares his flaws. We think of God, and Jesus, as being perfect, but all contradictory evidence is dismissed as “God’s plan.” “He carried the cross for us…He won’t give you any burden you can’t handle”. So, cancer cells run rampant in a beautiful, innocent child as a test of the kindness, strength, resolve and faith of the parents and everyone around them? If I am to accept the rather limited concept of God as heavenly father, rather than a spirit force that runs through every living thing, is it not possible that God might step back for a moment and recognize his role in this tragic event? “Damn! I really #@%&*^ up. How can I fix this?”

Goodness might lose its reference point without evil, but that does not mean that the universe requires evil. It is not necessarily true either that “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Sometimes it leaves you weaker and/or scarred. Who said that universal happiness requires an equal measure of suffering?

I believe that love or goodness/kindness can exist for its own sake, that it doesn’t require the polar opposite, or Karma’s cause and effect, to have value or meaning. You can think of Good and Evil as circles of influence. I read this somewhere, so can’t take credit for the concept. With this, there is the potential, and hope, that Good can eventually overlap, eclipse and eradicate Evil. Picture yourself at the center of all this.

“karma should not be conceived as a simplistic accounting of good vs bad in a soul ledger.”

In Islamic tradition the two kiraman katibin (Arabic: كراماً كاتبين‎ “honourable scribes”), are two angels called Raqib and Atid, believed by Muslims to record a person’s actions. Whether a person is sent to Jannah (paradise) or Jahannam (hell/purgatory) is not, however, dependent on whether good deeds outweigh bad deeds; but is ultimately up to God’s mercy upon a believer. I’ve always liked this little scorekeepers image.

“What are the effects over multiple lifetimes?” I agree that this is fatalistic, the old, “Pie in the sky, by and by, when you die,” argument which is usually used to keep the underclass under control. For the most part, that is the role of organized religion: another social structure. Why does Man feel the need to define God? For me, religion is limited and small, but spirituality is boundless.

I’ve described what we do during our time on earth as ripples in a pond. Our time is short, and eventually those ripples calm and we’re gone and forgotten. I do however, believe in angels, and that someone out there loves me and is looking out for me, not because I have any tangible evidence, but because I prefer it to the alternative.

James Baldwin – Esquire Interview 1968

Were that his words would be irrelevant today, and less prescient.

In the 60’s and early 70’s James Baldwin was at the center of the American literary universe, the civil rights movement, and popular culture. He was on the cover of Time magazine on May 17, 1963. Sadly, by the 80’s his contributions and immeasurable influence had been largely forgotten.

The author reflected on this in a separate interview with the NY Times in 1985, ‘The rise and fall of one’s reputation…What can you do about it? I think that comes with the territory. A book has its own life. Any real artist will never be judged in the time of his time; whatever judgment is delivered in the time of his time cannot be trusted.” He continues, ”I’m very vulnerable to all of that…but after all, that’s not what it’s all about. A book has a season, and it’s a great mistake to think you can write a best-seller once a year. The book behind you is the book behind you; the book ahead of you is the book ahead of you. And a success can be as difficult to survive as a failure. When you’re a success, if you believe it, you’re finished.”

Time 5-17-63

Reaching back over 50 years to July, 1968 when Esquire magazine published the following interview with Baldwin, one is struck by the urgency of his message.  Risking a cliché, his words ring true to the current state of ignorance and paranoia that grips our country. For me, Baldwin comes to life in this interview, and his tone, fueled by indignation at the recent assassination of Martin Luther King, is more personal and strident than his essays and works of fiction.

baldwin selma

Baldwin is at once cool and inyourface when discussing the issue of race in America that has been with us from the beginning, and refuses to go away. Here is the full text, and link to the original Esquire article, which includes photos.

Esquire interview

baldwin standing

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