Three-fifths of the way through the third fifth of whatever we were drinking that night, I was 20 years old, standing tall. We sat and yelled into the quiet hours of the wee about everything from Rodney King to the Three-Fifths Compromise. It was the beginning of a decade that would see me, and us, do this quite often and now that I’m three-fifths of the way to 50, I thought I’d be tired by now.
Tired of talking reparations with the homies — impatiently waiting on our 40 acres while sipping Moscow Mules. But I ain’t. We’ve been having a blast, haven’t we?
We’ve celebrated Kwanzaas together in my living room, passing the time between Christmas and New Years with D’Usse and Ciroc — you know, because Jigga and Diddy.
We spent Juneteenths together too, remember, as I proclaimed toasts to the idea that our true emancipation comes from within. Only to then get caught drunk driving on my way home, wondering if I was really free.
Yes sir, bright ideas became our full moments. Dark as night and clear as mud.
I left Tuskegee’s Homecoming on a party bus, preaching DuBois vs. Booker T. loud enough for the back row to hear me, hoping to lift the veil of ignorance so we could all see; only for us to end up too drunk to hold our damn eyes open at all, falling asleep to dreams deferred.
And speaking of HBCUs, I sat on Twitter many a day to watch the cultural impact of those schools, my schools, become almost as trendy as “Blackness” itself, if you can believe it, brother. Half-celebrated, half-berated, over and over again. And then I met y’all at day parties with a belly full of mimosas to relish in the glory of knowing both sides of that coin first hand — nodding my head to “Swag Surfin’” or whatever the DJ was playing.
And, on occasion, I even managed to wake up early enough for church that next day to sit with you in the pew while we all wondered if hell actually exists. Not realizing it was on our ass already, alive and well, in the form of a hangover. I’m just here to tell the truth and shame the Devil, sis.
Bright ideas became our full moments.
And sometimes we’d cut out of service early to catch some football. Only to watch Kaep’s kneel be mis-heard around the world, falling on deaf ears until our narrative was shaken and stirred up more times than the tomato juice in the Bloody Mary’s we were nursing. Or maybe the Bloody Mary’s were nursing us?
Yep, I spent many weekends bucking the rules with you, listening to our feisty plans about sticking it to The Man and whatever the hell else. And yet, there I was sitting in a cubicle later that same week with his goddamned foot on my neck. Hmph.
Dark as night and clear as mud.
Another decade of cops killing us in the streets? “What the fuck?”, we questioned each other as we watched their blood, our blood, spill out like the grenadine in our Tequila Sunrises. And so we drank to lament.
And then shortly after sunset it was “Fuck 12!” while we took every… single… unnecessary shot that they took at us, trying to forget it all. Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun, is it, Mr. Police Man? You tell me.
And while y’all pondered that… I bought the next round.
The racial wealth gap grew about as wide as the smile of the drunkards on our streets. They smiled because they knew it’d take them half as much time to walk to a liquor store than it would for us to drive to the nearest half-decent grocer. Still, our food deserts remained dried up, so we decided to water them with tonic and gin to give us a grin for a change. Looks like everyone failed this brown paper bag test.
And speaking of change, I watched as Black TV and Hollywood went from forgetting what our stories even looked like, to somehow remembering them again and still wind up missing the message. Secede to succeed, eh? I guess when life hands you lemons, you slice the motherfucker right in half and squeeze it ’til you can’t no more.
Bright ideas… clear as mud.
We drank cuz it was nothing to do, or because it was nothing better to do, or… just because. We drank cuz we were happy, and because we were sad. We threw back frantic vodka shots, trying to get the message clear. What were we Russian for?
Beer and wine flights, as we yelled into the quiet night, not realizing that being loud didn’t make our point any more right.
We merged our religion with our politics, searching for strength in numbers -only to grow weak where it counted: individuality. And so when we sat together at watch parties for elections and debates, we were reduced to drinking away the pain of not being heard. Still.
Sometimes we ponied up for some Ace of Spades to play cards with, trying to use our hands the best we could. Meanwhile, the White House sat Trump tight the whole time, and we never even had a shot. Well, that’s a lie — you know we had some shots!
Now we see COVID is hitting us harder than the rest of the world? Wow, nobody saw that coming. Shit, y’all hop on a Zoom with me and sip a Corona; for irony’s sake, at the very least.
Full moments… dark as night.
I drank my scotch almost as neat as I kept my stack of vinyls because minor chords seem to go so well with major problems. I watched, dizzily, as the records played out and turned with the world around us. And it spun on our backs and our finger at the same time. How can that be, this duality? … matter fact, tell the bartender to make this one a double.
My people in Harlem been drunk off Manhattans way before the Renaissance…. and somewhere along the line, I’m pretty sure somebody overdosed on simple syrup. Let’s have a drink and think.
I found myself surrounded by ni**as with attitudes as they found themselves some ice cubes for their cups. Whoa whoa, eazy does it.
Hand grenades on Bourbon Street like we ain’t at war with self, sweating our own beads, blowing up whoever’s spot with no truce in sight.
Blind from drinking the hooch, looking up to the sky, trying to figure why the moonshines a darker light on us? Of all people.
Say friend, what was that we said about bright ideas? Clear as mud and bright as night?
Maybe being Black in itself is about shaking and stirring America’s drink ‘til it ain’t pretty no more. And so somewhere between taking our time and pressing the issue; between patience and boldness, we took a swig.
Knee deep in our careers, we were, and still are, on edge. Anxiety doubled as a rubber band because the harder we pulled, the faster it snapped back on our ass. We chased our version of success trying to prove that the fear of failure never really existed, no matter how hard it was to ignore.
We toasted chilled glasses together on our highest peaks, wondering if the journey up was really worth it. And then proceeded to slide down into that next valley like a martini’s olive because it’s gotta be 5 o’clock somewhere. Y’all know what time it is!
This, too, is the frustration of being Black in America.
Meritocracy, equity, family, money, prestige, opportunity, sexuality, change and stability. And with all that on our minds, we couldn’t walk a straight line if the sheriff himself asked us to. But when we stumbled back home, we stumbled together.
Bright ideas. Full moments. Dark as night. Clear as mud.
For all the nights we doused our fire with a… different kind of water so that we could rest in hopes of dreaming to take that shot we were so afraid to chase while we were awake… cheers, my friend.
I guess the only difference between heaven and hell is what you invite God into your life for. That’s why they call ’em spirits.
So while we’re at it, pour out a little liquor for the the dead homies. And since I started all this shit, maybe I’ll pour mine out first.