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    Sunday
    Sep202015

    Number 19 – That Time I Thought I Had AIDS

    That’s right, man. AIDS is scary, man. I took my AIDS test, passed it, got a 65. You know what’s scary about the AIDS test? What’s scary is you don’t get the results back for five days. Five days, that’s a long time. And you know what happens in those five days? You start reflecting. You start thinking about every nasty, skank-ass... questionable piece of sex you ever had... and everybody got a few.

    And you’re like, God, what the fuck was I thinking? Oh, God! What the fuck was on my mind? It’s like the movie Scrooge, and the Ghost of Pussy Past comes.

    Remember me? I’m Itchy, the stripper from Miami.

    You know what else happens after you take an AIDS test?

    You start caIIing up people to see if they’re alive.

    -Hello, can I speak to Lisa?

    -This is Lisa. CLICK!!

    -Hello, can I speak to Tammy?

    -Tammy dead.

    What happened? She got hit by a bus.

    Thank the lord! Yes! Go Greyhound! Yeah, she got hit by a bus!

     

    - Chris Rock for his Brilliant HBO Comedy Special “Bigger and Blacker”

    A great part of the genius of Chris Rock is how he makes some the scariest, most serious situations funny. Well, this is a story about how a very similar situation wasn’t so funny. Not at the time at least. Now, I can laugh out loud, but it took quite a while to get here.

    My sophomore year of college was an interesting time. The Greek origins of the term (Sophos and moros) translate loosely into “Wise Fool”. Well, with a little help from some less than diligent healthcare “professionals”; I truly punctuated my year of being a Wise Fool. I can totally see how the etymology of the term came to be, as after the freshman year one should be more learned in life but still hasn’t gained enough knowledge to not be considered foolish. Sophomore year was a great learning experience in and out of the classroom.  It was my first year as a Resident Assistant (R.A.) which was instrumental in helping me further refine my approach to problem solving a communication. I gained an inside look at the inner workings of the university which would come in very handy in the following years. I also took a giant leap forward in breaking my shyness and learning how to balance my introversion with the need to socialize. While I’m still not quite an expert in navigating either, there were a number of lessons learned during this year that directed me onto the right path.

    As one could imagine, all that learning inside and outside of the classroom coupled with a full roster of extracurricular activities and a healthy amount of girl chasing, I was pretty exhausted at the end of the spring semester. In retrospect, I had just worn down and certainly needed all the time off that I could muster before my summer job began. At the time, I thought I was dying. What started out as a poorly timed spring/summer cold turned into something MUCH, MUCH worse than just about any illness I can recall. I sporadically had chills and night sweats. I couldn’t stop coughing and breathing was laborious to say the absolute least. When I wasn’t dizzy, I had headaches that neither aspirin nor Tylenol would mollify. My appetite disappeared and reappeared through bouts of vomiting. I was pretty damn miserable. I was also in denial.

    For some unknown reason, to this day I still believe that it’s best to not slow down when you are sick. Keeping it moving somehow keeps the sickness from settling in and gets you through it quicker. I’m not exactly sure when I developed this line of thinking or why, but I can’t remember a cold on this side of age 131 that I didn’t try to power through. I’m sure that part of it has to do with the rather poor state of healthcare in my neighborhood. Many laughed, but Flavor Flav could not have been any more accurate in Public Enemy’s 911 is a Joke. Hospitals, doctor’s offices and neighborhood clinics were all a mixture of apathetic doctors despondent because they didn’t have private practices on Park Avenue, inefficient government funding and guidelines and people trying to work the system. Then there were those that needed medical attention. They always came last at the time. I’ve never had patience for things that I deemed simple (See: Buying a bottle of water, not a drink that requires any human intervention, but just scanning and paying for a bottle of water at Starbucks in Richmond, VA. I’ll save that rant for another time) so the whole process of some apathetic triage/intake “nurse” asking you a number of halfhearted personal questions after ascertaining that you indeed did not have private medical insurance or cash coupled with an inattentive doctor barely examining you to just give you the medicine of the moment and sending you on your merry way should never have taken as long as it seemed to do. Now, I get some of the bigger issues that were at stake.

     

    The streets of Harlem were still rather bloody in those years. Gone were the days where civilized hustlers met behind closed doors and conducted business in an amicable manner. The new breed of hustler was brash and violent. They didn’t see the benefit to keeping murders to a minimum. The mantra was get money fast by any means necessary. Bodies were dropping at an alarming rate. And then there was the AIDS epidemic. At this point, we were just 4 years away from Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive and retiring from the NBA. While activist had pushed for recognition for the seriousness of the disease more than a decade before Magic’s announcement, it took one of the biggest NBA stars of the time contracting the disease to raise the national consciousness. In some cases, the consciousness was heighten way more than it needed to be.

    Take the hypochondriac walking around Harlem in a sweatshirt, jeans and a hat … in 85 degree weather in mid-May. Since I decided to power through this bout of whatever ailed me (aka existed in denial) and go about my daily routine, I made some questionable choices. I only thought as far as fighting off the chills neglecting the heat and humidity of New York in May. My defiance only exacerbated the issues at hand. I managed to dehydrate myself by excessively sweating and not taking in enough fluids all while sporadically throwing up. I was such a dream! My mother suggested, pleaded then finally threatened my life to get me to go to the doctor and finally I begrudgingly did. The wise thing would have been to go to the emergency room and wait all night to be seen, but that would have been way too easy for me. I waited until the next day and went to the clinic since I thought I’d get seen faster. I was right about being seen faster (my ordeal was only about 6 hours as opposed to 12+), but what would ensue made me wish that I had dealt with the long wait at the hospital.

    I’ll skip the first three hours of waiting time and get right to the part where my “health care professionals” seemed way more interested in the fact that I had not had a physical in a few years than the death hastening illness that had beset upon me at the moment. Some genius decided that it was a need to draw blood and examine my vitals in that state. I didn’t protest too much as I hoped that the blood would give some clues as to the hell that my body was experiencing. Said hell was never actually diagnosed, but I was given an antibiotic (one that I’m allergic to – one would think with that examination of my files that someone would have paid attention to the warning stamped on most of the pages in red, but alas) and a directive to get lots of fluids. A trip to the pharmacy and back and back to the pharmacy to get the right medicine later and I finally went home and slept. And I slept and slept and slept some more. I probably slept more that week than I had in about a month. And I genuinely began to feel better until I listened to the answering machine2 one Thursday afternoon.

    I hit play and heard the most ominous message that anyone had ever left me: “This message is for Derrick Logan, can you please come back to the neighborhood clinic3, we need to discuss an issue with your blood with you.” I got this message on Thursday afternoon and of course, the clinic was closed on Fridays during the summer so the earliest I could address this “issue” was on Monday. As Chris Rock stated, it took about 5 days for blood test results to come back in the 90’s. Because I was too busy sleeping off the antibiotic, I never considered that there was anything wrong with me other than the hot death that the doctors didn’t address. Now, I had 96 hours to think of every possible bad thing that could be wrong with me. My stomach sank and I got dizzy again. What the hell was wrong? I mean, I was starting to feel better but an “issue” was found so whatever they didn’t want to discuss while I was in the office had some empirical evidence behind it now. While there was no WebMD for me to peruse and tell me that I was dying, I did have the nightly news discussing the AIDS epidemic. This is the first place my mind with. In addition to the news, I did get about 40 pamphlets while at the clinic for HIV, AIDS and every STD known to man. That had to be the answer.

    For the next 4 days I couldn’t eat and the headaches worsened. I was despondent. I thought I was dying. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I thought was happening. All I could do was think about every possible place I could have contracted something and none of it was reasonable. While I wasn’t terribly educated about AIDS prior to this episode, I did spend the next few days in the local library learning all there was to know and replaying every episode involving any sort of physical contact that I had with anyone over the years. A more rational mind would have limited its thoughts to any sexual contact but I had convinced myself that there were some kisses that could have led to my current perceived predicament. I managed to convince myself over the course of 4 sleepless days that just about every woman with whom I shared more than a handshake had given me a death sentence. How was I going to explain this to my family? I was the last person that this was supposed to happen to! I was away at college for God’s sake! Yet and still, I was going down the path that so many who never left the ‘hood before me had gone down. As we saw with Magic Johnson, this wasn’t something that discriminated. College or no, I was a goner. Sex (or a make out session) had done what drugs, violence and poverty couldn’t. There was no way I could look my mother in the eye and tell her this so I spent 2 days writing and editing a 10 page letter explaining to her that I was dying and apologizing for letting her down.

    Monday finally came and I groggily made my way to the clinic before opening. There as another guy there that I remembered seeing the week before and he looked as stressed as I felt. He looked to be about my age and had a slight build. I couldn’t focus on him as I had issues of my own. We both made our way in as the door opened for the day and we sent in different directions. The triage nurse was expecting me and had no details other than a doctor would talk to me soon but they needed more blood. My heart raced and my stress was evident. My blood pressure was sky high. I complied with the request for more blood and was escorted to a room where the guy from outside was sitting. Before I could question why we were in this room a very nervous young doctor came in fidgeting and looking everywhere in the room refusing to make eye contact with either of us. In retrospect I feel badly for the guy. I’m not sure how he drew the short straw but he certainly earned his money that day. He rambled through introducing himself and talking about the volume of patients they see at the clinic each day/week/month and how fastidious they are with everyone’s information and samples. He went into how they diagnose all types of ailments and do help a great many people in the community. My pulse sped up even more. At this point I was convinced that I had something worse than AIDS. And this guy must have had it too, that’s the only reason we were in a room together. We couldn’t further infect each other but needed to be quarantined.

    Then the doctor lowered the boom: “There was a mix-up with some samples that day and we aren’t sure which sample belongs to each of you. We’re pretty sure that the samples that we tested belong to you two, but there were some discrepancies between the A&B samples that lead us to believe that some of the vials were mislabeled.” I waited for him to deliver the death sentence, but he seemed relieved and please with himself that he had gotten through his obviously rehearsed yet poorly executed speech and asked if we had any questions.

    Immediately I asked if I was dying and what was the culprit. He jumped to assure us both that neither of us had any terminal diseases but cautioned that one should watch his cholesterol as it was approaching the upper reaches of the high end of the acceptable spectrum. The next 30 minutes were spent screaming at this poor yeoman about how horrible both of our weekends were and how they should not leave such nebulous messages on answering machines. The doctor assured us that all caution had been taken with the current samples and that they would put a rush on the results. True to his word he personally called on Wednesday to deliver a clean bill of health and implore that I get more regular checkups. He also said that the hot death was a probably just a bug that had been worsened by lack of rest and poor nutrition. I hung up the phone and tore up my 10 page letter. If you've ever wondered why i am so insistent on annual physicals and potentially a little overzealous when the results come in, now you know why. 

    This was one of those seminal moments in life where I declared that I would do all I could to escape the clutches of the public healthcare system. That said, I did go get a few more HIV/AIDS test over the next few months as I had no faith in the results that had already been provided by a clinic that proved to be incompetent. Thankfully, results come out in 24hours these days, getting you to the celebration of a clean bill of health that much faster! As unnecessarily harrowing as those weeks were, it did help me look at life in a very different way. That led to one of the better summers in D. Logan history and a pretty legendary Junior Year. The wise fool was no more!

     

    1When I was in 5th Grade I tried to push through a flulike episode during citywide achievement test and ended up getting my lowest scores ever. Still north of the 80th percentile but that was atrocious for me. The next three years would more than make up for that.

    2For the uninitiated: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Answering_machine

    3I forget the exact name of the place, I do remember that it was on Lenox Ave and it was affiliated with one of the hospitals and was supposed to reduce emergency room crowding.

    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Number 5: That Time I Went to Kindergarten

    Fall is upon us!! I love the fall. I always have, and not just because it’s the season of my birth. Summer in the northeast can be outright oppressive. The heat and humidity commence in mid-May and maintain a death grip on the region unlike any other punishment known to mere mortals. That may be a little dramatic, but from about the third week of August to the middle of October, it’s the norm to have a nice and warm days sans humidity and a cool evening. Taking the subway or walking a few blocks no longer feels like you’re inhaling pea soup!

    I also greatly appreciate some of the things that autumn represent in the life cycle, like harvest and change. The end of the growth cycle gives way to resurrection of the ground so that the cycle can start again in the spring. And nothing represents change more beautifully than does the fall foliage. One of the things I most miss about high school is watching the wind blow the trees back and forth in mid-October. The various shades of brown and orange and red and yellow almost looked like the hills are were on fire when the sun was in a certain position in the sky.

    Then there is school. I love school, I always have. That’s not completely true. Not always. I grew to love school. After that whole kindergarten incident that is. Until I was about 8, my father worked nights and my mother word days. They would do the parent hand off in the morning which until I was 5 meant that I got to do my 3 favorite things in the world: 1) Watch Sesame Street; 2) Go to the library (it was right next door!) and 3) read. My parents were big supporters of head start programs insomuch as they both believed that they should exist, but they didn’t see much benefit in me attending one. The people that ran the local head start in the church were nice enough folks but not exactly the most academically minded. I believe that moms once referred to it as glorified babysitting. I didn’t care at all. See, moms worked in the neighborhood so in the event that dad had to work overtime, we would go to her office for the day. Sometimes dad and I would pop up mid-day and have lunch with her. My days were GRRRREEEAAATTTT! Until that fateful day in September 1980.

    The cliché all good things come to an end never held more meaning than it did for me that fall. Aside from being very introverted, even at that age, I was EXTREMELY shy. I didn’t say much to anyone that wasn’t family or a close friend. It took me quite a bit of time to warmup to new people and new situations that I didn’t control. This confluence of circumstances was about to get volatile. Moms was very much a “rip the Band-Aid” type of person. Dive into the pool in the deep end feet first and go forth. Great attribute and a great trait to instill in growing children. But there are probably more delicate ways to handle some situations.

    One morning, moms got me dressed and I thought I got to spend the day in her office (swivel chair for the win!) which was always exciting. Only, we walked down a different block on the way to her office. I noticed that immediately and asked why and she deflected. We approached a big brown building that I had seen a million times and always wished that I could play in the playground behind the black gate. This playground was unlike any other in Harlem at the time. There were a bunch of foreign structures that were made for running and jumping, none better than the structure that had ladders and poles like the ones that Batman and Robin used! Much to my chagrin, today’s trip wasn’t to the playground, not directly at least. We were actually going into this huge building. We get to a room on the ground floor that was full of kids and a couple of adults who all started looking at the door when we arrived. I immediately hid behind my mother to escape the collective gaze, but in her typical fashion, she implored me to stand front and center out on my own. There was an empty seat next to a girl that I knew who lived across the street from me. One of the strange ladies directed me to the seat next to this girl and despite my silent protest, also known as the Klingon Death Grip that I had on my mother’s hand, my mother agreed that I should go sit next to this girl. Hesitantly I did go and have a seat and struck up some small talk. She tried to share her coloring sheets and crayons, but while I let go of her hand I would not let my mother out of my sight. She stood smilingly at the door talking to some of the other parents encouraging me to talk to some of the other kids at the table. I started to warm up a bit and talked to my neighbors periodically checking in on my mother. All was good for a little while, this wasn’t so bad right?

    Then it happened. I turned my head and my mother was gone. I jumped up out of my seat and ran toward to door to try to find her. The teachers let me get to the hallway to see that she was long gone and escorted me back to my seat. I howled. I’ve broken bones, strained ligaments, had my heart broken and had paper cuts yet I am pretty sure that I have never cried like I did that day. I cried loudly. And pretty much all day. The teachers tried their best to calm me down, as did my neighbors. Everyone did their best to assure me that my mother would come back and that she had not abandoned me.  I couldn’t care any less about anything they had to say. This was a new experience that I was completely hating. Where was my family? Where was Sesame Street? And why was everyone staring at me? Oh, because I was screaming and crying like I was experiencing medieval torture methods. This was the longest day ever. My mother and father did show up eventually and I sprinted to them like we had been separated for decades. I begged them to never leave me like that again and pleaded for things to go back to normal.

    Moms did her best to ration with me, but I wanted no parts of it. Finally, she let the hammer drop that I would be going back to school until further notice. Most kids would have accepted this and looked for the good in the situation. I mean, there were other people my size, toys and that playground right? This couldn’t be all bad. For better or for worse, I was not most kids. The waterworks and noise show went on for another week or so. I’m a little hazy on when it exactly stopped but I clearly remember why. The teachers had taken to the method of talking over my nonsense to get through their daily plan. One day, I noticed that they were doing some of the things that Sesame Street use to do. But why? This was stuff that was about a year or so old. Shouldn’t they be doing some of the more recent Sesame Street exercises? One of the teachers tried to hide her shock that I had stopped crying and asked if I understood what was going on in the class. I did, and inquired as to why they were going over these easy letters? She asked if they were so easy, could I read the words on the board. I read them all and most of the room seemed shocked. I was annoyed. They were staring again. The other teacher asked what other words I recognized in the room. All of them, one after the other I read each one aloud. Miss Frazier went over to the Scholastic box and got me some materials and told me to read them while they worked with the rest of the class. Then it hit me. Unlike at home, everyone here couldn’t read. This was odd. Reading was a huge part of my home life and being the youngest, I was playing catch up. Everyone had much bigger books than I did and I wanted to get to that level badly.

    This was a turning point. I worked my way through the levels and the crying stopped. I’m sure that alone accelerated the learning curve for the rest of the class and being off to the side gave me a sense of calm. More kids would eventually join me at the side table and I would completely warm up to the environment in due time. Like all change, this was painful at first. It worked itself out and I can safely say that even when I moved states away from home or to new local schools, each first day was better than that one. I got out of the gate roughly, but I would learn to love the beginning of the school year so much that my first two years after college had me completely confused as to what I should be doing in September. I miss those days sometimes. Other times, well, let’s just say that adult life is good!

     

    Sunday
    Aug232015

    Number 14: That Time I Met a Real Live Angel

     

    "You've been so kind and generous 
    I don't know how you keep on giving 
    for your kindness I'm in debt to you"
    Natalie Merchant, Kind and Generous 

     

     

     

    I met an angel once.

     

    I'll give a little context here. When I was in 7th grade I was selected to join the Wadleigh Scholars Program, a program that since the 60’s has been sending kids from the hood to boarding schools. As one can imagine, there is a bit of academic rigor that needs to be reinforced to ensure the success of the participants of the program. This means that for the better part of 2 years, in addition to regular school and the things around that, I went to additional English and math classes in preparation for the SSAT and life after junior high school. I will go into greater detail here in a different entry, so I’ll skip ahead to just a few weeks before school started.


    One of the last activities prior to joining the brave new world of boarding school was an orientation. A Better Chance, Inc.,  gathered all of the students from the city and surrounding areas and brought us all to the Sheraton at 53rd and 6th Avenue in midtown. Me and my mans were the only ones from our class that made it that year so it was cool to have someone to be there with. That said, this is when it really all hit me. This was real. This was happening, it was all happening.

    At this point in life, I hadn’t perfected the poker face or Zen like approach to life. I was nervous. And anxious. I got the theory of going away to school and how my life would change, but this made it all real. I had visited a few of the schools to which I applied which helped to for my decision on which school to attend so I even knew what life would look and smell like. As the day passed, my anxiety grew. There were seminars presented by current and former teachers and students. The ever popular 80’s day in the life sketch even made an appearance. The more that I accepted that I was just a few weeks ago from living away from home with people that I didn’t know the worse the anxiety grew. For the first time, I started to question the decision. I didn’t know if I could go through with it. Could I succeed there? Would I like anyone? Be liked by anyone? Would my mother be okay back at home? How would my siblings and niece adjust to life without me? How would I adjust to life without them? By the end of lunch, I had convinced myself that this was a bad idea and that I could not go forward this. I’d gotten accepted to Stuyvesant which is a great school. My future would be secure if I went there and stayed home right? That’s what I would do. I’d finish the day here and talk to my mother about it when I got home. No need to come back tomorrow since I would have to catch up on what it was going to take to go to a local school. Then the post lunch session started.

    I saw something on Facebook recently that brought this back to my mind. I found myself staring at the picture and thought about that scene from Mad Men where Don Draper is pitching the Carousel to Kodak and he talks about nostalgia. Images are powerful and it’s amazing how seemingly dissimilar or unrelated things can be connected. A few random clicks on Facebook while waiting for a delayed flight took me back to one of the most important moments of my life.

    Back to the Sheraton in 1989. After me and my mans ate lunch, by ourselves in true anti-social fashion, we went to yet another conference room for what I thought would be more evidence of this horrible decision that I had made. I turned into the room and there were 2 seats in the back corner and that when I got the first glimpse of her. This really cute Puerto Rican girl was sitting alone (well, maybe, I really only just saw her. Big Bird and Snuffy could have been sitting next to her and I would not have known.) and I took the chair next to her and son took the one in the corner. I guess I should also mention now, that for those of you that didn’t know me then, I wasn’t exactly a lady killer. And by not exactly a lady killer I mean paralyzingly terrified of talking to girls. Or more accurately paralyzingly terrified of rejection. The talking to girls part was less a big deal if I wasn’t interested. But if I was, man was it a production of epic proportions. I never thought that she would realize that I was even there let alone care, besides, I had to formulate how I was going to break the news to my mother that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t have the time to think about how I was going to not talk to her; there were more pressing issues at hand.

    Then everything changed. The presenter requested that we partner up and work through some questions that were presented and before I could turn and talk to my dude about this, this angel turned her head (in slow motion, long brown hair following in a whisk like trail and with a halo of light around her) toward me and started talking. I admittedly still can’t recall her first few words because I was just way too shocked that this was happening. My heart almost jumped out of my chest and my pulse raced. I had to fight back the sweat on my brow and my hands had puddles in them. Thank God for the desk so that I could wipe my hands dry on my pants without anyone noticing. Until I stood up that was, but again, much more pressing things here. This angel was talking to me and smiling. Her smile is burned in my mind indelibly. It was a big toothy smile that was full of warmth. The more she smiled, the better I felt. I was less anxious about school now. Nevermind that all of the kids here seemed so much surer and more prepared than I and nevermind that life would be so drastically different than it had been. That would all be okay now.  

    I somehow summoned the energy and courage to get through the exercise at hand and managed to make her laugh. The tried and true method of making a joke of everything going on served me well on this day. In addition to being incredibly cute, and smart and funny in her own right, this angel was totally digging my sense of humor. As each joke landed, I stressed less and less. My hands dried without the help of my pants and while my boy was working his own angles, I had certainly made a new friend.

    As life would happen, we would connect during the high school years but lose touch after college started. I’m not sure I ever fully communicated to her how much a simple smile meant to me and the trajectory of my life. She’s a kind soul who was just being her kind self, but she completely made the day of a really nervous and uncertain kid. And that day changed the course of what was sure to be an uncomfortable conversation with my mother. I thank her for being herself and helping me to dig deep into myself to press onto my own journey of finding myself. I am fortunate to have crossed paths with her and to have been her friend.

     

    (one day, I might tell the story of how I made her a mixtape, another 80's staple and it was actually a tape, with this song at the begining and end!)

    Sunday
    Aug232015

    40 for 40

    "Maybe if I get this down I'll get it off my mind . . ."

    Amy Winehouse, You Sent Me Flying

     

    I've been in a wild nostalgic mood lately. Not sure why, but that's just the way it's been. I'm taking that as a sign to get some of this stuff out of my mind. As always, the names have been changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent. So strap in and enjoy me on this ride down memory lane.

     

    Here we go!!!