An Ode to a Frenemy of Mine

Tom Deriggi and I came from completely different backgrounds, but, as the universe would have it, our paths intertwined. He was a heavyset guy with bright red flushed cheeks that seemed to accentuate his greyish blue eyes. Politically, we were on two opposite spectrums: Tom on the far right, arms folded, chest out; me on the left, feet set and ideas ready to pour from me like fire from a dragon.

Today, I found out that Tom is dead. I do not know what led to his death or even the specific date he passed away. What I do know is that he’s been gone since at least June 2017. As I read the FB post “Rest in Peace” underneath his photo and saw the same words emblazoned over a picture of Tom posted by his brother, I felt a deep pang in my chest.

Tom and I built a close relationship rooted in arguments and different ideals. He challenged me as much as I did him, and he offered me a different perspective from my own. Him being nearly three decades my junior, I respected how he apologetically held his ground. Even in the heat of our debates, we found time to laugh and relate.

Without a doubt, I will miss you, Tom. Our brief friendship faded as quickly as it came. There is so much I do not know about you, that I want to know about you, that I will never know about you, not on this plane. You will continue to be a mystery to me, one that drives me to do better and learn what everyone thinks.

I am glad to have known you, Tom.

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Our Own Sort of Fun

Drugs. Violence. Police brutality. Hate. Love. Love. Love. 

In 1995, if you would have read about the Robert Taylor projects, the news report would probably have headlined something like this: 

“17 Men Arrested in Drug Sting at Robert Taylor Homes.” 

But inside those forsaken buildings where no one but those who lived there would have gone, children lived there. And those children, like all children, found a way to make the best of their situation. We did so in part by playing “It” in abandoned apartment buildings with holes in the walls.

Looking back on those days so many years later, I know my mother would have had a fit had she known what I was doing. As a father of three, I know I would not ever knowingly allow my daughters to play in abandoned buildings. Yet I also know that those dangerous moments where we had fun chipped away some of our surrounding circumstances and gave us a hideaway. 

Maybe my children will not ever experience what it is like to grow up impoverished in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, but they will hear many a stories from me about those moments. 

Inspiration Comes from Everywhere

As you’ll find if you read my blog thoroughly enough, I grew up in the Robert Taylor Projects on the Southside of Chicago. If you do any research, you’ll find it was not the ideal place to grow up, being overwhelmed with drugs and gang activity. But it is where I am from, and I am not ashamed of it.

My uncle Milton lived there as well but for over thirty years. When I was younger, he made a painting on my mom’s wall of the cartoon Tom cutting off Jerry’s head. Blood was everywhere in the painting. My mom was pissed to say the least. I was delighted, until she made him paint over it.

Milton is a very sarcastic person who you’ll either love or hate with hate seeming to be the winner in most cases. Yet he is comfortable with whom he is. On Monday, June 4, 2018, the Chicago Sun Times did a spread on him concerning his upbringing, painting and one of his pieces currently on display at an art gallery. This inspires me.

My family is condensed with people in the arts. I’m a writer, my uncle is an artist and some of my family makes music. Most of us came from those dilapidated buildings, but we have success, college degrees and each other.

Someone once asked me why I never failed to mention that I am from the projects. This person has a painful history, having grown up extremely poor to the point of having no running water in the house. Her childhood was traumatic. She is doing well for herself now, but she shies away from her past. She will not discuss with anyone how she grew up. It is this denial that leads her to question me. How can I, having grown up in the most notorious part of the city, be able and willing to speak openly about it?

I am not ashamed of where I come from. It has made me who I am, good or bad. It showed me that the world can be harsh, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference. It is what inspires me to do better for my children so that they don’t have to experience what I did. The point is, embrace your past to know your future as the Sankofa bird of West Africa tells you.

 

A Newborn

Nearly three months ago, my third beautiful daughter was born. Her eyes are a color I have never seen before and I cannot name. I was hoping for my first son, but I’m blessed either way. The question is, where do I go from here?

How to Write a Book

Recently, I have been working my ass off, writing, finishing my MFA and going to school while also helping to raise my three daughters. The question I am constantly asked is, “How do you find time to write?”

I don’t find time. I make time. That’s the difference. Life will give you a million reasons why you have to put off writing. You’re busy. You’re eating. You’re working. Something came up. The list is endless. At some point, you have to find the resolve to say, fuck this. Today, at this time, for the rest of this month or year, I will write.

The one thing that all successful writers have in common is they write. They put words on thr page. Whenever someone declares, “This is the book that will make me rich,” they’re most likely wrong. And to the classics, the best sellers, we have all read them and thought, “Why this book? It is nothing spectacular.”

Most up and coming writers are too critical of themselves. They write and think, “This is trash.” Newsflash, all first drafts are trash. However, they are the foundation on which you build. In this way, think of your manuscript as the bones of a house. Editing and proofreading are the paint and construction that makes the house beautiful. It is not done with one draft. It’s done with many.

Anyways, my new book “The Book of All Things Beautiful” is temporarily available for free download on Amazon. Hurry. The offer expires soon. You can search my name, Jermaine Reed, on Amazon and the book will come up. Or follow the link below.

Thank you.

Near Death Experience

One of my most devastating moments occurred when I was just twelve years old when I was hit by a car. I hardly ever talk about this, and I don’t know why. What I do know is that since that moment, I have always been aware of how life can change within just a matter of moments.

In grammar school as I have been throughout most of my life, I was somewhat a prick. Before Tristain and I became best friends, I was his enemy. I would pick on him and call him names, mostly because he wore glasses and had a long “tail” (a single braid of hair located towards the back of an otherwise shaved head).

“You’re ugly,” I said to Tristain.

“You’re ugly,” he said.

So on this day, while in line after lunch, I punched Tristain in the stomach. Unfortunately, our teacher saw it. She was a behemoth of a woman who wore a blonde mullet and glasses. After asking how I would like to be punched, she socked me in the stomach. I lost my breath and went down for the count.

I was enraged, so I ran out of school. The security guard, a former stripper, chased behind me. He was too late, as I jetted into the street. I remember being hit by a blue sedan. I was knocked into a pole, but I managed to stumble away. When I came to, I was surrounded by people from my project building. They were all telling me to be still.

The ambulance came and the paramedics cut me from my clothes. The fifty cents I’d had in my pocket is still unaccounted for. I don’t remember any pain.

I was out of school for two weeks while a large sore on the right side of my face healed. Although there were cameras in the school and it was confirmed that my teacher had punched me in the stomach, nothing was immediately done about it. This was the 90s, a different era in a different part of Chicago.

Eventually, the teacher who punched me was either fired or relocated. I learned not to punch people.

Millennium Park Seduction

Quetta and I became acquainted rather oddly. Before she was my high school sweetheart, we lived our lives parallel, our paths never really crossing even though we had many of the same classes. 

Back then, I was just a scrawny kid with gaps between every one of my teeth. Everyone knew me as “smart,” but I didn’t live up to my potential. I just got by. 

Quetta saw something in me she liked. This urged her to give me a note with three pictures of her and her sister and her phone number. I never used the number. I remember her sliding me these things and how weird I felt. She was pretty, but what was her point with me?

So, months passed and she eventually took my number and called me. The first time we had sex, it was amazing and confusing. She cried. 

“Why are you crying.” I said, stopping mid-stroke. 

“Because I feel like a whore. I’m seventeen and I’ve had sex with three different boys already,” she said.

This year, one of those men she had sex with was killed, taken before his time. But back then, I assured her she wasn’t a whore. She loved me for this. 

Months later, we went to the movies. In light of her jerking me off, I have forgotten what we went to see. She couldn’t keep her hands off me, and then things escalated. 

“I want to have sex,” she said, rubbing my manhood. 

“We will when we get home,” I said. 

“I want sex in Millennium Park. Now.” 

I was taken aback, but I kept me composure. In Millenium Park, while people tossed frisbees and drank beer, Quetta and I had sex behind a bush. She rode me until she came. 

She put back on all her clothes. By now, the wind had picked up. She told me how much she had enjoyed it. I didn’t cum. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it. I felt uncomfortable. It would be years before moments like these actually turned me on. 

I Am a Drug Dealer, Not So Much

One of my most vivid memories of my life in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Projects is my friend Travis and me walking through a grassy field and finding a huge ZipLoc bag of crack cocaine. There had to be at least 300 rocks in there. 

Up until this point, I had seen plenty of crack transactions. I was only nine or ten, but this was a way of life where I lived. But still, seeing crack without a dealer sent a raw fear through me. I felt like I would go to jail just from being around it. If the cops came, they would charge Travis and me with having it. 

“Damn,” said Travis, picking up the bag. “We’re rich.”

“We need to leave that alone,” I said, stepping away. 

“What? You scared? You a punk?”

After a brief argument, we decided to take it to my uncle. I knew he smoked crack and I thought he would know what to do with it. In his bedroom, my uncle interviewed us.

“Did you still this from your brother?” he asked Travis, since his brother was a well-known dealer. 

“No,” Travis said. 

“And don’t nobody know y’all got this?” he asked us.

After my uncle confirmed our story, he promised to sell it and give us some of the profit. Needless to say, we never saw a dime. Travis was mad. I wasn’t. We should have known not to give crack to a crack head. But I did not want anything to do with it anyhow. I realized then that I was not a drug dealer. 

Bullet and a Baby

This is a true story. 

When I was little, my favorite place to explore was my uncle’s bedroom. Although he was a die-hard crack addict who kept bottles of piss in his room, he had a plethora of things: magnifying glasses, telescopes, knives, swords and a host of other things. 

One day, my cousin, sister and me were playing in my uncle’s room. We had with us our infant niece. We came across a bunch of large bullets and a hammer. In our young minds, it was a great idea to bang a bullet with a hammer. 

After dozens of hits, the bullet was damaged but was sturdy. My cousin slammed the hammer so many times and my sister couldn’t get the job done. That’s where I came in. 

“It’s my turn,” I said, handing my niece to my sister and taking the hammer. 

I beat the bullet senseless but nothing happened. When I took my final swing, the bullet exploded. The heavy gun powder choked all of us. The explosion deafened me. I thought I had been shot. 

“What the fuck are y’all doing?” my mother said, rushing into the room. She smelled the gun powder, saw the shell casing and the hammer. She saw my baby niece. 

Needless to say, we all tried to shift the blame and minimize our involvement. My mother was the judge, jury and ass whipper. Who knew years later, a bullet would change my life forever.

I Hit a Girl

Since I could remember, I’ve had an affinity for cats. My love for them lies in their mysteriousness. They are quiet, gentle and affectionate. If a person rubs them the wrong way, cats can be pure buttholes. It seems they have a sense for who they should and should not trust.

As I’ve said, I grew up in the Robert Taylor projects on the Southside of Chicago. These buildings were huge high rises, able to hold up to 160 families. The pissy hallways were always dank and disgusting. For reasons unknown, my sister Precious and my cousin Shaday loved to play in them.

One day, I caught them in the act of dangling a cat from the 8th floor hallway window. My heart dropped with an anchor of fear. Before I could stop them,  they dropped the cat. I was equal parts dumbfounded and enraged.

“Why did y’all do that?” I said, my voice ricocheting off the hallway walls.

“Because cats always land on their feet,” they said in unison.

I have always been in disbelief of how the myth of cats always landing on their feet leads to so much animal cruelty against them. Just because cats can land on their feet, it doesn’t mean they’ll survive a toss from a window.

So, I punched my sister and cousin both in their arms. Of course, they cried to my mother. And yes, I got my ass whipped. Should a boy ever hit a girl? No. Not unless he’s avenging a cat.