Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Writing's on the Wall

The writing's on the wall, it's not likely to get any better
No one is coming, this is the heart of the matter
You saw the warning signs long ago, face up to the reality
Wishful thinking does not lead to any kind of certainty
Ignoring home truths might well be a pleasant distraction
But you're apt to find yourself thoroughly unprepared for decisive action
And consequently suffer intolerable losses, more than can be borne
The fault is entirely yours,
   and wounds cut deeper when they are self inflicted
You dithered and suffered the cost, as measured in excess mortality,
A debased reputation, legacy, and a questionable economy
Human life should be precious and not just yours
The golden rule applies to the lives of others
Your track record is an award-winning advertisement
   for buyer's remorse
You'll have to deal with things now, there's no delaying the decision
Be pragmatic, a wise man once told me, heed the words of the proverb:
When the snake is in the house,
   one need not discuss the matter at length
The writing's on the wall, it's not going to get any better
No one is coming, this is your prisoner's dilemma

nigeria stamps tb patient being x-rayed 75th anniversary of scouting baden powell 45k

The writing's on the wall, it's not likely to get any better
The meat that you stocked in the freezer
Came quite unstuck, became twice a victim
'Twas the Texas Freeze's collateral damage
Promptly thawed, and then refrozen - power outage
Was it manslaughter, that bit about poor planning?
Or the rapacious pursuit of black gold?
Witness: the bill of goods that you were sold
Out of the living wages of a failed state
Was paid out in the currency of cash grabs
Denominated in a bunch of mistakes
It's up to you now, entirely in your hands
Whether to throw it away and thereby cut your losses
Or weigh the risk to your stomach of eating dodgy pork
The writing's on the wall, it's not likely to taste any better
What paradise have we lost? And some say meat is murder

nigeria stamp 75th anniversary of scouting baden powell 1982 45k

The writing's on the wall, it's not likely to get any better
Be prepared was the motto of the Boy Scouts
First we heard some of the unguarded notions
Of Baron Baden-Powell, founding father
And the sexual, and other depredations
Of bad seeds, generations of troop leaders
Now in this overdue spring of reckoning
Legal liabilities, a barrage of bitter pills and payments due
The threats are of renaming streets and tearing down statues.
Original sin tends to end with this kind of scandal
I guess the cool kids these days might call it being canceled
Everything is written in sand, there are no certainties
Whatever you think of the man, or the organization's legacy,
Scout's honor, they're now beset with rather perilous public relations
While the rest of us are now left to ponder truth and reconciliation
About the only saving grace in this mountain of when,
Tarnished reputations make the best collector's items
If Rhodes must fall and they pull down the statues
All my prized stamps will only increase in value
The writing's on the wall, it's not likely to trend any better
The news forecast: a dire prognosis for the Boy Scouts
Be prepared, after-school enrollment rates face quite the market rout

stamp dubai 11th jamboree athens 1963

The Writing's on the Wall, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)

baden-powell must fall


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

This fit of buyer's remorse is part of a series: In a covidious time.

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Writing log: March 14, 2021

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Never Never Man

Never Never Man, portrait of the naysayer
Altogether satisfied with his station,
   atop his perch, call it his fiefdom
"How about a donation, young man?"
   He laid out the usual corruption
Frustrated, for all that was required
   was a signature or a stamp
How hard was it for him to do his job?
   It was hard to understand
Blaming bureaucracy was beside the point,
   the obstacle was clearly this man
Stalling, and then declaiming action,
   "It's out of my hands"

Never Never Man, you know, you're really a trial
When it comes to getting things done,
   your only response is denial
Nevermind that some of us have wider ambitions
Now we've run headlong into your mounting obstruction
Gnomic. "It can't be done",
   and other pronouncements with no explanation
And, when confronted,
   a torrent of lies, misdirection, and evasion
A bright remark, a non-sequitur,
   and you simply change the subject
Then you act like you don't understand things,
   "with all due respect"

Never Never Man, what kind of life is this?
For weeks now, I’ve been trekking early to the head office
Camping out, waiting for the appointment I’ve been promised
The labyrinth of corridors and offices that I roam
It feels as if the waiting room is now my second home
Trapped as I am, internally displaced in the torrid zone
I've learned that home truth: no one is coming, you're on your own

Never Never Man, being around you
   has turned into a kind of quagmire
The roadblock was this man,
   with his easy, expectant smile, and baleful laughter
Who had no conscience, no compunction,
   treating me as if my name was Kafka
I'd never given bribes before, this would be new territory
But then I'd never encountered such a brazen adversary
Finally, I gave up on my scruples because I really had to go
The moral of the story: it takes two to do the corruption tango

Never Never Man we can't pin you down, you're inscrutable
Nay, your fortress of ineptitude is impenetrable
The original Doctor No, a real life Bond villain
Messing things up for my wife and children
Try as I can (and I've tried) to make my point understood
Never Never Man, simply put, you're no good

Containers: side-by-side

This folktale is dedicated to my mother's favorite insult and, sadly, our perennial foil, Never Never Man, the patron saint of the stall and runaround.

Never Never Man, a playlist

A soundtrack to relieve my frustration (spotify version).


When I shared this note with The Wife, she read into it another Never Never Man that was the bane of our existence some years ago, a jobsworth sans pareil. I had completely excised his face, his name, and indeed the eighteen month ordeal we suffered at his expense, from my memory, which is how I deal with post-traumatic stress, I suppose. The Wife couldn't see any humour in things, she still bears him a grudge for what he put us through. I pray you have the good fortune to run away at the first chance when you encounter your own Never Never Man. As I can attest, it's much safer in the long run.


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: March 16, 2021

Friday, August 20, 2021

Scramble for Africa

Remembering the collective whiff of apprehension in the Harvard administration back in 1994 at the mere prospect of Winnie Mandela speaking at our African students conference. She tended to concentrate the mind.

Preparing for the 21st Century

Approaches were made, alternatives were immediately suggested, right thinking Harvard got into gear. I was sounded out by someone in the US State Department about our invitation. Unlike her husband, there was no good reason to deny her a visa but it was certainly being considered.

Recall that the ANC, per Ronald Reagan and George Bush, was officially designated a terrorist organization. Winnie's husband would need waivers, even post Nobel Prize, to visit the US and address the UN.

Hysteria to the left of us, amnesia to the right. (De Klerk would be feted years later at the Kennedy school). In any case, the pressure was on. The College Republicans had a new target. This was the first time I heard of Jack Abramoff.

Soundtrack: The Pressure by Sounds of Blackness

Some of us had a very different reading of Ronald Reagan's Forward for Freedom speech. It is an article of faith for me. It was written in Angola

In the event, Winnie had bigger fish to fry (the mother of all elections for one) and we went with less controversial speakers.

I wanted truth and reconciliation, and an end to apartheid and all I got out of it was a lousy t-shirt.

South Africa 1994, The mother of all elections

Still, I remember some administrator wondering aloud why we needed to bring all these "mid-level" African professionals (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Djibril Diallo etc.) to the conference [to speak to African students] when an expert like Samuel Huntington was available (and local)

There was a silver lining, I applied for my first credit card in order to finance the conference, and got some whimsical toli out of it

Call it A Debt Foretold

My enduring theme is cultural memory, the legacies of men and woman, what we choose to remember and, crucially, what we choose to forget. I hew to the skeptic's credo and am determined to bear witness.

How else could they laugh
Like they do when they should weep;
Remembering the voiceless days of the past.

Kwesi Brew, African Panorama
The antidote to the scramble for Africa is Truth and Reconciliation:

Recall that well before Winnie's husband had assumed the mantle,
Long before the ink was dry on South Africa's new constitution
Their spokesmen were already calling apartheid ancient history
And, well, de Klerk would later join Kissinger in the rogues' gallery
Call it, of cold blooded murderers that have won the Nobel Peace Prize
The three musketeers of fate: irony, infamy and goddamn lies

A Temporary Inconvenience, a playlist

Let's have a minor soundtrack to celebrate my time as a temporary inconvenience to Harvard. Some South African music, sadly many of these great musicians are no longer with us (spotify version). ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: March 20, 2021

Monday, August 16, 2021


You have to wait a while for domedo. Those who think of it as just street food know only the adulterated sort, the one that bypasses the wait. Part of the appeal of good domedo is that you have to wait a while. Even when you get a tip about a good supplier, you kind of resign yourself to a kind of food serfdom, the tsar being the domedo guy.

Case in point, I remember one Christmas back home in Ghana, I happened to mention that I hadn't had domedo in a year - a kind of idle hint that I thought might hasten things to the benefit of this exiled soul. The parental unit were enjoying having a full house and fully indulging their brood. But no, I had quite forgotten that this wasn't a routine thing. Domedo is very far from routine, you see. As it was, Mum promptly called her domedo guy and placed the order. It didn't matter that she had built up a relationship with the man over the past 16 years, that she had brought him repeat business, and had referred him many faithful customers over the years, we simply had to wait. There was no indication about when the domedo would come, no estimated timeframe etc. The order was merely acknowledged; further there was no negotiation on price, he knew that whatever he demanded would be promptly paid, no matter how usurious. If we had the good grace to get some domedo on my birthday or even before our return to Austin that would be a fringe benefit, I knew my place.


And when it did come, the fight began. These two children of ours who had been turning their nose up at the fare in the house all of a sudden were fighting with their grandfather and I - I started reconsidering this whole business about putting food on the table for the family. Said grandfather who had began waxing eloquent about the special occasions growing up when domedo was served, noticed the alarming speed with which those two were digging in and reverted to that jungle imperative - every man for himself. The golden rule was was suspended, the other cheek was stuffed not turned. There was no more small talk, we were simians who'd happened onto the prodigal son's feast - to mix my parables. We dug in and ate it all. It was worth the wait.

To say that domedo is spicy pork doesn't capture anything about its essence. It has to be experienced.

I do know this. When this pandemic is over and vaccines and all have been procured. The very first thing I will do when I land on Ghanaian soil is put in an order for domedo. I'm not sure when it will come, but it will be worth the wait.

food spread 2

For the completists or curious: domedo is pronounced something like dough-may-dough.

Note: I have no dietary restrictions albeit my palate was fixed by the time I left Ghana as a child. I am otherwise indifferent to pork - goat and guinea fowl are my favorite meats, but I always stand to attention at the prospect of some good domedo.

Pork, a playlist

A soundtrack to this tasty dish (spotify version) See previously: Taste, Comfort Food and Rare Groove, A Taste of Africa

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Writing log: March 21, 2016; Playlist March 16, 2021

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

What Paradise Have We Lost?

The boy picked up a dandelion
Carefree as was his wont
But when it came to blowing it out
He was stymied by the face mask
No matter how hard that he huffed and he puffed
The fabric mesh that covered his mouth held fast

The mask against aerosols and other viral vectors
Did its duty of protection against childhood leisure
Thus whimsy was victimized by material culture
Revealing the extent of the plague's infrastructure
We were getting a truer measure of the pandemic's cost
Even as we asked, what paradise have we lost?


We passed our neighbor on our daily walk
But where we would usually stop and talk
We contented ourselves with a head nod and gave her a wide berth
Such are the rituals that are disappearing from this earth
Now alienation becomes common courtesy and a duty of care
The temporarary inconvenience of distancing as social welfare

That the breath of life carries tainted droplets is another irony
Anecdotal testimony abounds of the myriad covidious casualties
Biology imposes penalties and we weigh its shadow's burden
Deprived of touch and community, so many are truly hurting
This new normalcy, fraught and enforced, only exhausts
We are left pondering, what paradise have we lost?

end of the trail

Paradise Lost, a playlist

An upbeat soundtrack for this note, a tour of a world forlorn. (spotify version)

This internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time.

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Writing log: March 13, 2021

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The Bad Seed

Suborn was his favourite verb
He'd read it in the dictionary and it stuck
Indeed it was his very favorite activity
The thrill of meeting a girl down on her luck -
Freshfaced was best - and prey on her insecurity
He lived for the moment when, under pressure, she would turn
Inside he celebrated, it was all too easy
The school of hard knocks, those lessons learned
The fruits of smooth talking with the steel of coercion
A girl newly suborned was worth the price of admission

He would never betray himself, he kept a cool countenance
His style always approached, but was just this side of flashy
You had to know how to maintain the serene balance
For this was no mere vocation, to resist the lure of easy money
The family business was of no interest for him, no, not at all
No stodgy funeral home for him, no assisted living, why think small?
Why bother? Not when other players were parading around crack dollars

Drugs were too easy, the real challenge was breaking a spirit
That other word, misogyny, was for squares and without merit
Early forties, he'd seen it all, had hardened his mind to it.
A late bloomer perhaps and much to do, even if squalid

Not for him pimp arrest and all that jargon and slickness
That the cats who read too much Iceberg Slim would throw at you.
He bet most of them hadn't even read the books
Nah, start with Donald Goines man, Whoreson Jones
Bringing a prospect into the game was the endpoint
It was hard work, nothing like that show, Hookers at the Point

In the barbershop, he was holding court,
Just about turned it into a serpent's lair
I'd recognized him from the open house
As I sat two seats down in my chair

My barber had slowed to a crawl in crafting my low fade
It turns out that we were all transfixed listening to this man's escapades

I wondered if he remembered me and would treat me as a spoiler
Who'd seen him at a relative low point liquidating his real estate
If he did, he didn't skip a beat, and continued narrating his pot boiler
Again he would repeat:
   "It's all in the game, it's about how you communicate"
Deliberate, this man, there was a detachment to his diction
There wasn't a torrent of words as he spun his fictions
He made sure as he rapped to enun-ci-ate ev-e-ry syl-la-ble
I couldn't figure out what manner of cut he was getting,
   this smooth criminal

She'd been sitting in the corner reading back issues of Vibe
I hadn't paid attention but now realized that, to every man,
   she lowered her eyes.

He coughed, looked over at her and nodded.

She stood up, dropped her drape and started walking.

The legs: vertiginous
The hips: tremendous
The outfit: ridiculous

She walked.
That was all.

The subtext: lascivious
His intent: pernicious

She walked.
I was appalled.

He just wanted to show off his possession
To make a point with this barbershop exhibition

He nodded again.

She slowed and just paraded back and forth
Those few steps between the full length mirror and the front door

An unholy, impromptu airing of the possibilities of the flesh
Such was the shock, there was a collective intake of breath

Meanwhile he ignored the display, he was of a different bent
The promise of sex meant nothing to him, he continued to wax eloquent
About the new girl, the one out of Walnut Creek high school
Who just got her diploma, "I'mma teach her the rules"

She walked.
It could have been a tightrope or a catwalk

"18 and over, and she couldn't wait to come be an earner"

It was uncomfortable, those five minutes of sin
The walk and its soundtrack: the sound of this man droning

Hardly normal, this marshalling of the naked appeal to lust
How would I explain this scene? It amounted to a betrayal of trust

I suppose from the outside you might say
That she was just taking a stroll and stretching
But if you were in the room you knew full well
This was nothing less than slut shaming

I looked around, everyone was silent and amazed
Needless to say, there's a real violence to the male gaze

"Real prospects, man you should see her", he smiled
Then, on second thought, he pointed, "But nothing like..."

She kept on walking.


She kept walking.

"Right there, my bottom."

She walked.
Turned as she reached the mirror.

Under the cape in the barber's chair
I couldn't help but continue to stare
Still, I couldn't stand this strange ritual
Unnerving, the plain reduction of an individual
Servitude of sorts, call it by its name, exploitation
There was no denying the upshot of this transgression

Yet she wore this woman's work with a mask of normalcy
Floating above it all, she only aimed to please
The blankness in her eyes only strengthened my unease

She walked.

Preening as he was, like an obsequious merchant
Displaying his fleshy wares in the barbershop bazaar
This was premium quality content, the matter at hand
Except that the goods presented weren't rugs or steak knives
The sale of a human soul, a dubious transaction to all eyes
Ashamed, in those few minutes, at the undoubted humiliation
Troubled, to see not resignation but the vacancy of her stare
It appeared to just be work, a thorough subjugation

She walked.

I guess we were the marks, the square johns
Who would never understand the sex worker's situation
Not that the phrase ever crossed his lips
It was rather a panoply of hoes and pimps
A grim masquerade, this march at the carnival
I couldn't bear the tension of that sordid interval

The minutes passed. She kept on walking
While this gremlin kept on talking
Spinning his web of aggrandizing spite
His heart was a full quiver of ice
Arrows of deceit, cunning and sleaze
Our collective souls abased to our hands and knees

She kept on walking.

Pacing, her motion ever more languorous
The simplicity of the act, yet this felt dangerous

All of a sudden he clapped. His haircut was done.
She stopped moving promptly. We remained stunned.

She went to fetch his suit jacket for him
Exquisite silk. She helped him put it on.
Fresh. Wrapped her arm around him as he offered his elbow.
His arm moved lower and tapped her waist just like so
Took a look around as if to inspect his audience
He expertly put on his hat
Then dropped his hand further, and patted her butt

"Bottom power"

The college footballer dropped his phone.
I averted my eyes, thoroughly embarrassed.
Then, an exchange between the two of them
She had never said a word in all this, it was telling
For the first time, she looked into everyone's eyes
Goddamn. I guess this was the temptation he was selling

I felt bad, sick to the stomach at the display of power so feral
Worried, about the corruption of my soul now placed in turmoil
The disturbance continued as they walked out the door
She'd grabbed her drape. Could innocence ever be restored?

There was silence for a few minutes
We were still taking in what what we had witnessed
The clippers hummed unhurriedly on the edge of din
That was the only sound in the aftermath of sin

Eventually: "How about that game?"
My barber unmuted the TV
"The Raiders ain't doing nothing this year..."
No one mentioned anything further
The unwritten code of the streets
"What happens in the barber chair,..."

He handed me the mirror, I inspected the close fade
I added an extra five dollars to what I usually paid

I made my departure from the joint with speed
Full of worry about the woman caught up in this perverse psychology
And those others prey to the admixture of bullying and sociopathy
The mounting alarm also
   about the unknown graduate from Walnut Creek

After the open house, I'd done some research
   but now I had his street name
Not that it really mattered, the pathology of Junior Eddie was the same

At this Player's Ball there was no delicacy
To this evocation, to these fifty shades of sadness
Spectators to this cold blooded glimpse of human brutality
I steeled myself for the journey back from the heart of darkness

When I saw The Roots, The Tipping Point tour, as I remember
After the show, they were passing out these funny flyers
That was in Boston's Combat Zone: The Pimps and Hoes Party
But here in Oakland, I was getting a heavy dose of reality

Back in Cambridge, I'd shared the same barber
   as that Harvard professor
Who skipped around the gates of weighty subjects as he held court
Now I was on the West Coast, living in the hometown of Too Short
The topics were no less troubling,
   but it was a different breed of street philosopher

I tried to commit the details to memory; I headed straight home
This rough trade in sin was material enough for a poem
The bad seed had left me shaken to the core by this encounter
There was no way today that I'd enjoy the food at the Taste of Africa

greece stamp eaahnikh ahmokpatia

Like a shopkeeper displaying his lengths of cheap cotton to country housewives, Parrinieddu unwound his roll of lies. His nickname of Little Priest was due to the easy eloquence and hypocrisy he exuded.

Leonard Sciascia - The Day of the Owl

roxy flier pimps & hoes party


I've never seen this couple again.
When I got home, I racked my brain
For what I could do to intervene
How to protect from this menace to society?
Who could act to relieve my anxiety?
To my shame, I could only pray for healing
For there was no balm that could truly salve.
My antidote: I then wrote the above.

The Bad Seed, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note, let me know if it fits. (spotify version)
See previously: Open House

The statute of limitations has passed and so I can belatedly nominate this piece for The Things Fall Apart Series.

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Writing log. Concept: July 31, 2007, March 6, 2021