Happy New Year! Check out my chapter, ‘Creatures’, on The Wire’s Dream magazine on (p. 42). Click the link below.
“When it comes down to it, I’d rather have an action figure than a Golden Globe.”- Chadwick Boseman
At times, I wonder if any of the action figures my mother spent her hard earned money on are buried underneath the dark rich soil of the Village. If I had the time, proper equipment, and permission from the borough, I would actually excavate specific areas in the field as if I were looking for dinosaur bones to find out for sure. Before I ever met any human being outside of my household, my action figures, were my first friends.
Every payday, I would go Downtown with my mother. We would go to a mom-and-pop store on High Street called Newberry’s. I called it “Blueberries.” My mother thought it was the cutest mispronunciation ever. She would buy me a new Star Wars action figure. The Ewoks were my favorite. I was devastated when I left them behind at the bank. I hope the lucky kid who ended up with them took good care of my friends. The originals, are now worth thousands on Ebay. What is more important to me, is their nostalgic value. Each action figure I had, told a story about my childhood.
My brother Ron often brings up the day I put on cowboy boots, checkered pants, hopped on my Big Wheel, and went to kick every kid’s ass I could find in the Village. What he never knew until now was the reason why I was so pissed off. I was tired of people stealing my action figures from out of our patio. At times, I didn’t even know who stole them. I just felt a force to take action as if I were Darth Vader himself.
In my young mind, I knew that I couldn’t run to my white mother, in a predominately black community, to tell her that someone stole my action figures. It was an early realization of mine to know that most times, I would have to fend for myself. One of my biggest fears was to have my mother attacked in the streets by some kids’ mother who knew good and well that her son was wrong yet still defended his thievery.
A kid named Noopy got away with stealing my action figures because his parents did not even bat an eye when I knocked on their door to retrieve what was rightfully mine. He also got away with me beating him up more than I ever got the chance; for some reason, Ron-Ron, (the guy who rode through my snowman!) would always protect him. It was either a lost I had to chalk up or seek revenge in my own ways. Many times, I wasn’t reluctant to sock potential suspects in the face without warning.
Other times, my sisters, Wendy, Shelly, and Kim or my brother Ron, had my back but I also had a keen understanding that they couldn’t beat up everyone in the Village. I was tough despite our circumstances of not having much family. All we had was our household.
As my favorite hip-hop artist Nas put it on his Life is Good album:
“No uncles or cousins to fight with us, we was fucked up…but still it was beautiful…”
With that being said, I discovered the beauty in loyalty.
I had a few friends early on who were ride or die too. Through them, I learned to value true friendship as if my life depended on it. So later on in the middle school, with some of my Village loyalist, I formed a crew called Foot Clan Click (FCC) influenced by the Foot Soldiers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The concept of TMNT was so fitting since I used to live right next to the sewer drain that swallowed all of the Village water. But many years before the sixth grade, I was still holding on to the fantasy world that those small replicas represented.
My misapprehension of action figures made me believe that I could do what they did in cartoons, in my actual life. When I moved across the street from the Village, I met my new neighbor, a white boy named Michael. We became friends fast because we both shared this similar imagination. What made pretending more cool was the fact that his uncle and aunt studied martial arts. They lived a few doors down from us so we viewed their basement as a dojo. Michael also had costume ninja suits that we would wear around the block as we were fixated in our own little world. Oblivious to other kids laughing at the sight of us sneaking around, kicking, and karate chopping the air.
At times, I did feel disconnected when just across the street, Villagers gazed, wondering why I was stuck in such a kiddy phase. Michael was never allowed to enter the Village, so his curiosity of what occurred over there made it more fascinating. Almost magical because a privileged white kid wanted to know why I frequented the poor place so often. Enough to the point it made him angry when I left our street to visit my people. I loved every minute of having that upper hand. It was fun telling him the folktales, myths, and legends about the Village. Even stretching the truth a bit too far at times. Like when he believed that the Village had underground pathways and I had to attend secret meetings with Villagers. The reality was, I dwelled in between two worlds: Wanting to hang on to imaginary child’s play while being cool at the same time.
Like many kids, I played for hours trying to apply the magic of Thundercats, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. JOE, Transformers and more to my reality. These toys were escapism to my surroundings. With the exception of Megatron: the evil Transformer villain whose transformation into a lifelike gun was so real, it caused controversy across the world. I recall some fool spoiling innocent childsplay when he made the news in the 80s for robbing a bank with the Deceptacon.
On a more serious note, my heart drops down to my stomach thinking about Tamir Rice, who at a tender age of twelve, peacefully played with his toy gun before being murdered by police. This story breaks my heart along with the other ongoing incidents on constant viral loops in the national crisis of police officers gunning down black victims. The very thought of blameless black kids, who could be running around with Megatron, enjoying their childhood, makes me cringe at the idea of their imagination being shot down, literally.
The allegory in the storyline of the X-MEN subliminally shared the same plight as oppressed people in the real world. The mutants were only trying to fit into society. That sounds so familiar in comparison to today’s political climate. Also, being a fan of Wolverine who is a loner like myself made perfect sense. He didn’t get along with everyone and wanted to be left alone a lot. That describes me until this very day.
Clark Kent represents someone hiding behind an identity that is Superman because he knows the world is not ready for his amazing abilities.
How many of us are afraid to be who we are because others are so judgmental?
My action figures never made me second guess myself. I did all of the talking and they just listened. That was until another one of my early friendships in the Village:
Kyle had this collection of actions figures that he kept in an old Nike shoebox. There must have been one-hundred of them! Every time I went over to his grandma’s unit in the Village where he stayed, I would constantly ask him about the hostages of G.I. JOE action figures that were captured within that cardboard prison. With his maturation a few steps ahead of mine, he sensed that I desperately wanted to bring Sergeant Slaughter and Cobra Commander to life through my imagination. At first, he would allow me to tamper with a few of the soldiers for mere seconds. That was only until he was ready to move on to what he considered more suitable activities for his age. Like chasing girls, drinking, and hanging out with older crowds. Mind you, we were only in the third grade.
Eventually, there would be a different moment in the sixth grade when some girl invited herself into my house. When she snooped around, she laughed at me after discovering my action figures in my bedroom which I obviously forgot to hide. But long before that discomfiting day, my mind was still where it belonged: watching cartoons and playing with toys.
But not Kyle. The harsh environment of the Village caused my friend to become callous. At first, he was emotional about his circumstances and willing to share his pain with me. Certain deprivation like not having breakfast to prepare him for a long school day. One occasional morning, he happened to have an egg sandwich and this made him the happiest kid in the ’hood! I can still smell the mixture of butter, pepper, and cheese on that rare egg sandwich of his. How he even had the audacity to tease me for not having one. In my mind I was like, Dude...you were just crying the other day when your fridge was bare. Around this time, I had been living across the street from the Village for two years, however, I still made my stops to walk to Barth Elementary with some of my friends.
Kyle inspired me; we both loved hip-hop music. I could recite every artist’s song yet never once thought I could write my own rhymes. That was until Kyle encouraged me.
“My man put the battery in my back...a difference from Energizer...sentence begins indented...with formality…”
Just some more lyrics from Nas again.
An allusion to express that magical feeling of discovering my ability to creatively write. It was that exact moment in Mrs. Harvey’s classroom, where I obtained the ability to play with words, nonetheless. A puzzle of poetry or maze to start at the top left side of the page in hopes to finish at the bottom right side corner. Of course I struggled at first. But I eventually grew to love formulating words to express myself and what surrounded me. I’m forever indebted to Kyle for that motivation.
He finally gave in one day.
“Man! You can have those G.I. JOES!”
I was happy as hell yet still wise enough to realize that Kyle viewed me as a little kid even though we both were, little kids. I had already sensed the change in his behavior and that the course of our brotherhood would head in different directions. So I accepted his offer as a parting gift. Then he left to go Downtown with his older cousin Zelly. I immediately rushed home to store the additional action figures he gave me to what I had left from my days of living in the Village. Kyle and I never hung out again after that day. Months later, he went to live with his father in California.
Fast forward years later to high-school. Kyle’s back in town. I see him hanging Downtown on Washington Street as I’m coming from catching the town bus on High Street. Something us Villagers had to resort to whenever we missed the school bus that sped through or around the Village. I dreaded it because it made me extremely late for homeroom. I go to shake his hand. He shows me love but not like years before. He’s different. But I get it. I have seen it several times, with many friends, all from the Village who chose the streets. Like my one friend I would see later that day who was stashing work in the basketball locker rooms after practice. His product was safe overnight and his name left anonymous with no assigned locker tracing back to him. Just a master lock that he purchased if anyone ever noticed. This way, he avoided the police dogs searching the hallway lockers during regular school hours. I always thought he was a genius for that. But anyway, for a split second, I feel like a lame for heading to school. Then I come to my senses. I am late but at least I’ll get there.
The next time I saw Kyle was on the front page of The Pottstown Mercury. The article read that he spit in a prosecutor’s face after he was given a life sentence. Prior to reading what happened, I’ve heard various street versions of what led to such a vicious encounter in the courtroom.
I wish it was a Megatron gun that Kyle held in his hand the moment he decided to take Brad’s life. As if we were still only kids playing in the Village. Brad was such a cool dude. I graduated with his younger sister Kathy. She and I were close at one point, so the tragedy that occurred among two of my friends made it more painful. Our conversations indicated how forgiving and strong she is as an individual. From what I’ve heard, Kyle was not in his right mind. He was high off laced marijuana was one rumor. After a while, I stopped bothering with asking around about any details at all.
So many years went by before I built up enough nerve to ask around for his prison address so I could send him a kite or write him. I did not know where to start because of where he and I left off as friends. I worried he had forgotten who I was but then it dawned on me to write in the form of which our friendship began, through lyrics.
Around the time, I was still venturing verses into my own hip-hop album titled, Back Up Plan. Knowing I could never send Kyle the CD, I wrote the verse dedicated to him in a song called, ‘Stories’:
Another young life/brother not acting right/it’s like he’s born and the cops say “that’s his life”/handed to him/a spot in the can for him/no father figure/grew up on a bad influence/but he had a pop who would send mail to him/I thought he had a shot/he let the system nail through him/like a kid playing with matches/fire and flames/easily heated/angry because he’s tired of pain/he loved rap music/had me start my first notebook/but that was third grade/now he’s in to worse coke cooked/he was grown at an early age/surely brave/see I’ve known/since the day he gave me his G.I.JOES/it’s too often in the ’hood we see two lives go/one stuck in prison/the other his eyes closed/and I’m cool with the victim’s little sister/she taught my daughter/ but my friend got life for manslaughter/hold your head Kyle.
I was elated when he wrote me back a verse. His wordplay indicated that he had spent some time reading and reflecting on his life changing mistake. The exchange of words reminded me of the book I read, The Other Wes Moore. How two men who shared the name Wes Moore, made different choices in life being raised in the harsh neighborhoods of Baltimore. They had found a connection. Although these two men were complete strangers until the author, Wes Moore, read an article about the tragic demise of the other Wes Moore, the story is quite similar to Kyle and me. I plan, by writing this chapter, to open up our friendship and someday pay him a visit.
I wish that action figures such as Luke Cage and Black Panther were real. So that they could save the black community by intervening before we ever get the chance to make poor choices. We could use some more black heroes like them. Setting examples. Filling the void of role models in the ’hood.
Just like the Wu-Tang Clan song, “It was all so simple”, when all we wanted to do was play with our action figures.