E.M. Monroe

"I knew, not from memory, but from hope, that there were other models by which to live." Weems


November 2011

Models Monday: Repeat Step 1(In Advance of the New Season of the Real Housewives of Atlanta)

I think I might have seen an advertisement on television promoting the new season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. In advance of the new season’s launch in early November, I thought to re-post my thoughts on the show because they’re sure to be relevant because nothing on the show ever seems to change.

Natasha Trethewey’s poem “Tableau” from her book Domestic Work features a man and a woman pretty much in repose:

At breakfast, the scent of lemons,
just-picked, yellowing on the sill.
At the table, a man and woman.

Between them, a still life:
shallow bowl, damask plums
in one square of morning light.

The woman sips tea
from a chipped blue cup, turning it,
avoiding the rough white edge.

The man, his thumb pushing deep
toward the pit, peels taut skin
clean from plum flesh.

The woman watches his hands,
the pale fruit darkening
wherever he’s pushed too hard.

She is thinking seed, the hardness
she’ll roll on her tongue,
a beginning. One by one,

the man fills the bowl with globes
that glisten. Translucent, he thinks.
The woman, now, her cup tilting

empty, sees, for the first time,
the hairline crack
that has begun to split the bowl in half.

I’ve thought about this work a great deal since the very first time I read it. I love its elegant simplicity.

I imagine the man and woman as a married African American couple. I admire their ability to be still together, quiet, and comfortable enough with one another to take leave of their partnership to think their own thoughts and have their own ideas about everyday things. Their peace enables them to see mundane things anew. While the “hairline crack” in the bowl might suggest something ominous about their relationship, I choose not to interpret the ending in this way. I see that “hairline crack” much like the “chipped blue cup” that the woman sips tea from: a mark of character as well as a feature of the cup. Flaws do not make items disposable for this woman. The cup has not lost its value as a conveyor of her morning drink. Despite being chipped, the cup still works.

The representation of an African American married couple who can be still together and quiet counters the representation offered on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The tableau of African American married life on this show stands in direct opposition to Trethewey’s beautiful still life. The characters presented on this show do not seem committed to preserving anything despite functionality. They constantly shop for new things whose meaning seemingly derives from its brand name rather than its use. This show interprets the meaning of African American married couples spending time together, at least the significant part of it, as mostly scheming to make more money. I see very little beauty here. Why are we supposed to want lives like these women have? 

I was really moved to see the cast showing a common understanding towards Kandi’s heartbreak over her daughter’s poor relationship with her father. What troubled me though was that you don’t ever see any of the women most concerned for their children’s relationships with their fathers doing anything that would improve them. In one episode, Sheree takes her son tennis shoe shopping and she makes some disjointed claims about the relationship she wants him to have with his father. I don’t actually remember what she said but I remember thinking that she would swear up and down that she talked to her son about his father but how little talking actually occurred. I thought the same thing when I saw a clip from an episode featuring NeNe talking to her son. Their descriptions of themselves as party starters, however, does not support their ambition to offer meaningful talk; that requires quiet. Meaningful talk requires thinking through what to say and how. The Real Housewives makes no effort to depict people who spend any time strategizing how to talk. What they offer is a process involved in being mean spirited: Step 1: Make a lot of noise. Step 2: Read nothing. Step 3: Busy yourself with a series of mindless tasks. Step 4: Meet a friend for dinner. Step 5: Talk to your friend over dinner. Once you get to Step 4, you begin to see how following these steps put you on a road to destruction because they gave you nothing to discuss once you reached the fifth step. The only thing these steps prepare you for is being mean spirited; a disaster.

I think that the cast of The Real Housewives of Atlanta were sincere when they claimed to want their children to have better relationships with their fathers. I also think they were being sincere when they talked to their children about this. However, really being of service to one’s children would require making use of a different series of steps: Step 1: Be quiet; don’t make any noise. Step 2: Read something. Step 3: Focus on what you read; think about it. Step 4: Discuss what you read with someone who spends more time being quiet and reading than you do. Steps 1-4 prepare you to offer advice, but before saying anything, it is extremely important to repeat Step 1.

Step 1 is where Natasha Trethewey’s poem centers all of its action. Those two people aren’t gettin’ the party started; they aren’t spending any money. What they are doing–together–is giving life careful attention. They are catching their perceptions up with the world going on around them. They are making careful observations and adjusting themselves to meet them (i.e. the woman turning the cup so as not to sip from the “rough edge”). They are executing a model of living that I find most attractive. It’s a life that we can all have without spending a dime–so don’t expect to see this life on television; it wouldn’t be attractive to sponsors.


It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

When I was a child, I used to wish that when I went to sleep on Christmas night I would awake to find that Christmas was all a dream and that this morning was the real Christmas morning; I never wanted the day to end. Specifically, I wanted to sustain that magical moment of seeing my presents under the tree for the first time. I am beginning to have that wish for Thanksgiving–I want the entire day to last at least 48 hours.

Unlike the heavily decorated and festive tables that I see gracing the pages of magazines, the Thanksgiving that I have planned lacks pumpkin candle holders and pear shaped napkin rings. The day that I have planned will be filled with as much leisure as I can manage. Though I do all of the cooking, even it takes place in leisure. I usually begin cooking at about 8, which is a little after I normally rise. I will prepare my turkey breasts for the oven and then I will start my greens. While my greens are cooking I will boil the sweet potatoes until they’re soft enough to slip out of their jackets. I will slice and coat them with butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg. When my turkey comes out of the oven, my sweet potatoes will go into the oven. As they are cooking, I will ready the macaroni and cheese–though this will go into the oven last. So as the pasta boils, I will crumble the cornbread before pouring the sauteed onions, green peppers, and celery into the bowl. The dressing will go into the oven when the sweet potatoes make their exit. I suspect that we’ll be ready to eat, the first time, around 3.

I enjoy the work that my mind does while I’m cooking. I’m looking forward to seeing what this Thanksgiving has in store for my mind.

We’re practically in our pajamas when we eat dinner. We don’t dress-up for it but we are gracious and grateful before the feast. We like not having to be fussy. We like having plenty of food if anyone drops by…and this year, we like that we have THREE GOOD NFL GAMES ON.

Once Upon a Time on Thanksgiving

The Muppets were always on during Thanksgiving season. One of those Muppets movies would usually come on the day before Thanksgiving and King Kong would be featured on Thanksgiving day. I never watched these programs, they were just a part of the atmosphere that comprised the weather of my favorite holiday. I can almost smell my past and feel the homemade warmth of it when I say the word “Thanksgiving.” I remember that my grandmother prepared her dressing the night before and she crumbled the cornbread and the old bread that she had taken from the freezer and toasted before stirring all of the bread, dried sage and thyme, along with the sauteed green peppers, onions, and celery into a big yellow bowl. I helped my grandmother by peeling potatoes for the mashed potatoes she would put on the next day. I always spent time with my aunt, uncle, and cousins at their house on Thanksgiving, which I loved. I never ate Thanksgiving dinner fresh at my own house but the leftovers were always good.

I don’t remember anybody talking about going shopping during Thanksgiving season unless it was for food. The transformation of Thanksgiving into a shopping holiday is new. The general absence of shopping constitutes one of my central reasons for loving the holiday. But now, talk of Black Friday sales appear to be as central to the holiday as the celebration of Thanksgiving itself. In my recent memory, I can recall reading stories about people waiting in line for stores to open and folk fighting over merchandise; they were all horror stories. I don’t recall hearing good post-Thanksgiving shopping stories. Maybe these stories do exist but they’re just not as popular as the grim tales of people trampling one another for toys.

My mother always worked holidays because it was an opportunity for her to earn extra money; double-time and a half, I think. She had not experienced Christmas day off until I was almost out of college. I always understood that this was a tremendous sacrifice. I thought of her sacrifice when I read the stories about the Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Macy’s, and Toys R Us employees being compelled to work this Thanksgiving. At least in my mother’s case she could make this choice and would be compensated at a worthy rate. I don’t know what they pay at these big box stores but I can’t imagine that cashiers are breaking the bank. Best Buy issued a statement where they claimed that satisfying their customers would enable them to continue supporting their employees but I imagine that my idea of providing a “good job” and their idea would differ significantly. For one, a “good job” to me would be one that would pay you for time off during the holidays.

I signed my name to the petitions available at in support of the employees. I have luscious memories of Thanksgiving spent eating, talking, sharing, and laughing with family and friends. Stores were closed so going shopping wasn’t an option. Once upon a time on Thanksgiving, fellowship was normalized over adults fighting over toys.

Models Monday: VIP (The Thanksgiving Week Edition)

I was invited to moderate a film discussion earlier this week for a film that has received rave reviews. My role was minimal. I was only required to ask two questions before turning it over to the audience. It was an interesting experience. I learned how seriously people take film actors and actresses as well as how highly they regard themselves. The audience was falling all over themselves trying to convey to these folk how wonderful they thought they were. Later, the Director, who I was sitting next to, was the only person on the panel who even acknowledged my presence. While she didn’t thank me, she at least turned to me and smiled. I then thanked her for participating in the discussion and wished her well on the film.

I thought the remaining panelists should have at least said “thank you” given how much it cost me to be there. I’m not much of a shopper so I’ve only been to this venue three times so I actually had to use my GPS to get there. Once there, I had no idea how to get out of the parking lot. I found some nice young people who helped me navigate from the parking lot to the theatre. When I arrived, it wasn’t clear how to even enter the theatre. Since I hadn’t eaten much, I bought a small punch and a box of Sweet Tarts, which totalled $10.67! It wound up costing me $8 to park and I had to walk in the rain to get back to the parking lot. By the time I got home to my family it was almost 11 p.m. and I was soaking wet.

In thinking about gratitude-especially as the Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner-it was clear to me that the actors and perhaps the audience members overlooked what it cost me because of the presumed benefit that I received of having a reserved seat, sitting next to the Director, and being one of the first people in Atlanta to see this film. No one was ever directed to acknowledge anyone else’s contribution to the evening. It never occurred to them, for example, that someone would have another idea about the value of spending time away from their family after a long day of work; about spending time with Hollywood actors; about spending money at the concession stand.

When Michael Jackson died, I called my father. When he answered, he said, “Yeah, I heard. That’s too bad. I feel bad for his family and I loved his music but when my mother died, I don’t remember Mike calling me to offer his condolences.” We both laughed. I thought about this as I reflected on the presumption that I would want to spend time with these Hollywood strangers. The fact that my encounter with celebrity, no matter how marginal, occured the same week that Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis attended Marine Corp balls (Timberlake’s reflections on his experience were thoughtful) didn’t help to illuminate another view of the meaningfulness of celebrity. Like my father’s remarks suggest, I can appreciate someone’s talent and still understand the place they have as a very important person in my life. As much pleasure as Michael Jackson’s music still brings me, if I had only one opportunity to select someone to spend my last day with, it wouldn’t be him or any other Hollywood stranger. I would certainly choose from among the people who I have actually known and loved. This is also true of living celebrities and my living family and friends. My family and friends are very important people even if people don’t have to pay money to see them; they matter to me.

I was sent an alert mid-week that my name was being placed on a VIP list for another film screening and was told that confirmation concerning the details of the screening would follow. Do you know that they did not email those details until 10:21 p.m. Friday evening for a film being shown Saturday? A friend sent a text asking if I was still going, to which I replied “NOPE.” My prior experience with these Hollywood folk taught me everything I needed to know about their presumptions regarding what it means to be a very important person. So instead of heading down to the Fox theatre, I spent time with my husband and my son, I talked on the phone with my mom, my friends, and my aunt. It was a good day spent with VIPs. I’ll catch the film on DVD.

Model’s Monday: Improving Your Day

I used to subscribe to Real Simple magazine. They have an “Expertise” column that I made a point reading every month. In their October issue, they featured a column on “rituals that will improve your day.” While I think their suggestions are all fine ones, I immediately thought of my mother when I read the column and I thought she would have considered these rituals conceptually flawed. In order to enjoy these rituals and savor them, my mother would have wanted to insert a claim about planning. My mother has always stressed the importance of planning for peace. Without planning, life is harried. Planning for the breakfast you will eat everyday would be included in how my mother would have written this ritual. Planning time to savor one’s coffee would have been a must for her.

When I was a child, my mother ironed all of my white and blue blouses for school until I was old enough to iron them myself. She sent my plaid pleated Catholic school jumper or skirt to be laundered once a week. Though I resented having this chore when I was a child, the process of ironing my clothes for the week was something that I continued through college. So as much as I disliked it, I came to understand the importance of planning ahead and eliminating work that I am certain to confront in the future.

If my mother were to have coffee every morning, she would prepare the coffeepot the night before and set aside the mug with the sugar already in it. She does this for me when she visits. Though I am a tea drinker, she always places a tea bag inside the mug so that I will only need to boil the water when I’m ready.

I used to like “Manic Monday,” the song that Prince wrote for the Bangles in 1986. When I was in high school our SGA representatives would play it over the P.A. system; they played Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry be Happy” on subsequent days. Now when I think about “Manic Monday,” I think about how little sympathy my mother would have for those “manic” young women. “If they only did what they needed to do on Sunday, they wouldn’t have that problem,” my mother might say.

If you want to improve your day, any one of them, my mother would suggest beginning at least a day ahead. So in honor of her, I need to go and iron my clothes for the week.

Reading with my Father: Slim’s Table Interlude (on Penn State)

Maybe Mitch Duneier’s description of Bart’s death and its aftermath has influenced my current interest in the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.”

Bart photographed by Ovie Carter in Mitchell Duneier's Slim's Table: Race, Respectability, and Masculinity

Bart dies alone and stays in the morgue for three weeks. Duneier makes the point that Bart wasn’t completely removed from belonging to community because the men at Valois mourned him. In fact, they were the ones who first detected that something was wrong and then alerted his brother who refused to act on this knowledge. So for Duneier, Bart was no Eleanor Rigby.

In the song, Eleanor Rigby goes completely unmourned.

No one knows her or cares enough about her to even call a brother who will not answer.

The Beatles’ song asks us to consider where lonely people belong. There are lots of stories that could be told in answer to that question, and I think that some of those stories need to involve people who should be excluded from belonging. I was reading an advice column where a woman said that her uncle molested her when she was a child. Now that he is old and she’s the only family member who can take care of him, she’s concerned about her obligations to him. The advice was to honor her knowledge of her uncle’s abuse and let him find alternative care. I agreed with this advice: Some people are outside of community for good reason…Jerry Sandusky should be one of those people.

Sandusky’s crimes against boys while he was a coach at Penn State should bar him from community. His perversion does not fit him for the benefit of participating in civil society. I was saddened to learn that lawyers representing the victims have speculated about possible feelings of betrayal from the victims because the Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno, the head coach at Penn State. The belief is that the students rioting in protest of Paterno’s forced departure would bear upon the victims. I hope that someone convinces them that the Board’s decision was a good one. Paterno had not done enough to stop this abuse in his team’s name. He should have had Sandusky barred from Penn State football facilities when he learned of his actions and provided reasons for his decision to the public. The students at Penn State are engaged in a dishonorable protest.

Mike McQueary, the wide receivers coach, had been a graduate assistant when he witnessed Sandusky abusing a boy in a locker room shower. He made his witness meaningful when he told his father who then encouraged him to tell Coach Paterno. Paterno then told the Athletic Director and that’s where the reporting meaningfully ends; it all remains internal and no one calls the police. McQueary had been tapped to take over as head coach during Saturday’s game against Nebraska but due to death threats against him, the Board has decided it’s best for him to not coach.

It’s not clear whether the death threats McQueary has received are due to his failure to personally interrupt Sandusky or if they are a result of him being seen as a whistleblower and thus Paterno’s betrayer…it’s all so violent. I do have sympathy for the humanity of McQueary’s failing, if that’s even the right word. He didn’t show the heroism that we might have wanted; the heroism of Hollywood that would have shown him stopping the coach, his supervisor and much older man, from committing a horrifying act. Life though, doesn’t always unfold just so. I see McQueary as horrified and powerless in his initial encounter. His initial weakness gets redeemed though because he told someone. I see his actions as admitting a truth about our abilities as human beings: sometimes our best, in the worst moments, isn’t quite good enough.

My father would have been saddened to learn of the abuse these boys endured. He would have had no problem with the Board of Trustees firing Paterno, and he would have wanted to see Jerry Sandusky become a very lonely man.

Models Monday: Interpretations of Debt

I bought Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott winning book The Lion & The Mouse for my son but I barely let him near it. I probably would be afraid to let him near it even if it were a board book because he has a habit of moistening, biting, and tearing those too.

Front cover of Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion & The Mouse

Pinkney’s version of this tale only comes out when I think Miles might be too groggy to want to handle it.

Back cover of Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion & The Mouse

The watercolor paintings throughout the book look lifelike and make identifying animals an easy and sumptuous pleasure. In his “Artist’s Note,” Pinkney identifies this story as his favorite of Aesop’s Fables:

The tale of a mouse who accidentally disturbs a lion from his rest, and the lion who makes a life-changing decision to release his prey. When the mouse remembers her debt, she frees the lion from a poacher’s trap. For me, this story offers far more than a simple moral of how the meek can trump the mighty […] as an adult I’ve come to appreciate how both animals are equally large at heart: the courageous mouse, and the lion who must rise above his beastly nature to set his small prey free.

When released, the mouse returns to a family of dependents. The only words in the story are the sounds of animals and when the mouse hears the lion’s roar, the images show the mouse moving towards the sound of a lion caught in a poacher’s trap.

Jerry Pinkney The Lion & The Mouse

The mouse must work diligently to free the lion. Over at least four frames, the mouse frees lion and returns home.

The power of Pinkney’s interpretation of this fable comes from his presentation of a possible upside to debt. In this case, debt tied the mouse to the well-being of another creature. When presented with an opportunity, the mouse served as a witness to lion’s good deed. The mouse’s actions honored the memory of lion’s mercy.

Now I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make mention of Toni Morrison’s Beloved at this juncture. In that magisterial work, Stamp Paid offers an account of debt that differs from Pinkney’s but has just as much responsibility in it. Morrison writes that Stamp Paid:

Born Joshua, renamed himself when he handed over his wife to his master’s son. Handed her over in the sense that he did not kill anybody, thereby himself, because his wife demanded he stay alive. Otherwise, she reasoned, where and to whom could she return when the boy was through? With that gift, he decided that he didn’t owe anybody anything. Whatever his obligations were, that act paid them off. He thought it would make him rambunctious, renegade–a drunkard even, the debtlessness, and in a way it did. But there was nothing to do with it. Work well; work poorly. Work a little; work not at all. Make sense; make none. Sleep, wake up; like somebody, dislike others. It didn’t seem much of a way to live and it brought him no satisfaction. So he extended this debtlessness to other people by helping them pay out and off whatever they owed in misery. Beaten runaways? He ferried them and rendered them paid for; gave them their own bill of sale, so to speak. “You paid it; now life owes you.” (184-185)

With the priceless sacrifice of his wife, Stamp Paid became free from artificial economic debt but not organic human obligation. He decides that his obligations to other people from whom life had extracted similar exorbitant fees make life worthwhile.

The work of gnawing through the nets that hold animals or people in captivity links Morrison’s presentation of debtlessness with Pinkney’s presentation of indebtedness. Banks try to make debt a morality tale. From the perspective of Morrison’s work, it’s a tale of soul murdering exploitation.

It may be impossible to stand outside of debt. In Pinkney’s case that might be a very good thing. Debt binds a world of distinction and difference; it commits you to others and acts against indifference. Debt is worthwhile when it assists in forging community; same with debtlessness. Debt may be stumbled upon in the natural world just like the mouse who unwittingly disrupts the lion’s rest. The gravity of this accident should prompt us all to think carefully about the debt we choose.

Reading with my Father: Slim’s Table (Part III.)

One particular set of incidents illustrates that, unlike typical images of urban dwellers, the black regulars at Valois were not merely guardians of turf, attempting to maintain and reinforce expectations about themselves and others. They were creatures of sociability for whom contact with the wider circle of cafeteria groups was a source of gratification. (Duneier 87)

My father idealized my uncles, my mother’s brothers, as just the sort of group represented by the black regulars at Valois. When I interviewed my father during the summer of 2006, he had the following things to say about my uncles:

Dad:  There’s a certain kind of thing about the Hite’s, the boys, that I never saw them as cool, I saw them as brothers. I saw them as brothers that I wish that they were my brothers because they were so close. As brothers they were cool.

Me: Did you know any of them before you met my mother? Or did it all happen at the same time?

Dad: You know I saw them, I didn’t know them. I always felt it was a divine plan because, like I say, I’m closer to Gerald than anybody…this don’t have nothin’ to do with that. Cool? There’s a distinct difference between each one of them.

Me: Yeah.

Dad: Distinct. But as brothers? There’s no difference.

Me: That’s right.

Dad: They’re connected. Fighting? That’s out. They fight together. They don’t fight against one another regardless of what the circumstance is. Me and my brother been fighting since I come out the womb. I never wanted that; I always wanted a big brother. And whenever I would be around them, there was an envy because I wanted that. I wanted that. They were cool as brothers. They’d laugh. They found the same things funny. And even if they had differences of opinion it was of love and it was like “come on man.” And they discussed it and it went on and on. And it’s been like that for forty years that I’ve seen so I know it was like that before I even met them. So cool? I saw them as cool brothers. So anytime we’re talking about cool we have to be specific as to  what kind of cool we’re talking about.

My father told me a story about my uncles that exemplified the kind of cool he thought their brotherhood represented. In my father’s version, my uncles ran into some character who had a gun and shot one of them. The police were on the scene and everybody ran. One of my uncles could have gotten away but he sacrificed his freedom by going back to get his brother.

I asked my Uncle Eric about this story when we corresponded while he was living in Costa Rica. Eric told a fascinating story that differed greatly from the one my father told. My uncle entitled his story “Shootout at the Crosstown Poolroom.” Here’s the whole story unfiltered.

I’ll try to relate this story one more time. I was mad as a Grizzly when I lost it last night. It took a while to remember, you know that happened thirty-five years ago. A person can accumulate an awful lot of cobwebs on the brain in thirty-five years. This time should be a little easier. O.K. now first of all, keep in mind that I’m nineteen years old and six months out of high school at the time when I still thought it was all about a good fight. Back then, dudes were willing to go all over town just to find a good fight, and after the fight, win, lose or draw you went on. It wasn’t about killing then. As a matter of fact, I’ve always felt that it’s a poor ass that can’t take a whipping. By the way, this event truly marked the end of my bullying career. From that day to this, I’ve never acted aggressively first toward another human being.

The bad vibe really began the day before the shooting. A guy named Sanford Sparks and I had just smoked a joint and re-entered the poolroom. The poolroom had a shoeshine stand with I think six seats. Now, I was sitting in seat three. We left the next seat empty and Sanford sat in seat five. When Wooten and his three road dogs entered drinking a quart of beer they wanted to sit together and kick it and enjoy their beer. But the way Sanford and I were sitting made this impossible, you see. So Wooten asked me would I move over so they could share their beer together.

Now Wooten and I didn’t know each other personally, but he had heard of me and I seen him around the poolroom and on different sets. I knew he was kind of soft and would avoid any kind of confrontation. But him and his three road dogs all knew Sanford. Now of all the killers, fools, and tough dudes that I’ve ever met, I would have to say without hesitation that Sanford was by far the toughest man I’ve ever known; bar none. Oh my goodness could that man fight. And of course, he went the way of all tough guys: gunned down at the tender age of 20. When he asked me to move over he didn’t do it in a demeaning or authoritative manner, and there was no reason for me to respond the way I did. Anyway, I responded like I was looking for trouble, which I was, and the end result was that he backed down and Sanford and I wouldn’t let it die. So Wooten and his mob left with their tail between their legs, so to speak.

This is a baby picture of my Uncle Eric. I hope that my Aunt Sharon reads this and decides to scan a more relevant picture of Eric and send it to me as an attachment.

I spent the night at Charlie Hite’s (Note: Eric means his oldest brother. Everyone in my family refers to my Uncle Charles by his full name at times.) and he and I spent the best part of the next day drinking until Ronnie Clay arrived at around 8 or 9. I guess at about 10, Clay wanted to go to the Poolroom so I volunteered to go with him. When I saw Wooten there, I mentioned to Clay that we had words the previous day. He asked whether or not it was settled and if not he had my back. So I invited him outside, but before we got there, he pulled a knife. Now I still wanted to continue but Clay stepped in and broke it up–I still to this day think I could have whipped him even with the knife–but Clay made the mistake of telling him we’d be back. Never give a person the opportunity to prepare for your return. They’ll know you’re coming back when you show.

Charlie Hite is pictured on the far left and Eric is on the far right of this Christmastime photo. My Uncle Gerald is in the middle.

When we got back to Chuck’s house, I was very surprised to learn he had a pistol. The downside was he only had one bullet. Clay begged and pleaded that he be allowed to carry the gun, so we let him. All the way up to the poolroom this fool was rolling in the snow coming up with the pistol. Pow, pow, pow. Practicing his quick draw, peeking around corners at the enemy, shooting ’em dead on the spot; the whole little kid routine, playing with the cap gun. Now, Charlie Hite is devising his brilliant strategy where Clay and I hang out at the back door, count to something giving him time to get around front, and we got all entrances and exits blocked off. With all this going on the only thing I want is a good fight. I never dreamed these people would have real guns with real bullets. I just want to kick some ass.

So when Clay and I enter the backdoor, Chuck is already in the back and the next person I see is Wooten hiding behind a pole watching the front door. He has his gang posted up watching all ways in and out. When I go to hit him his boy screamed so my only blow was a glancing blow because he was moving away when I swung and shot me thru his coat. I didn’t feel a thing, just heard the shot and that told me what to do: get the hell out of there. I don’t know how Chuck got hit, but Clay broke to the bathroom and never fired a shot. While he was in there hiding, they came in there to kill him but the people in there said he had nothing to do with it so they let him live. I still tease him and he replies that he was sure Chuck and I were dead therefore it became necessary for someone to record the story of how the Hite boys were gunned down at the Crosstown Poolroom.

I was halfway back to Chuck’s house before I realized I was shot. Whooten and his mob were riding around looking to finish the job when they caught up to me on the basketball court at POC (Note: POC is a community abbreviation of PORC, which was an abbreviation of Portland Outhwait Recreation Center.) and the only place to hide was behind a basketball pole. When they see me and are in the process of moving in for the kill, Sanford showed up from nowhere and called them off.

While me and Chuck were laying up in the hospital recovering from our wounds, a friend of ours named Tootie who knew me and Chuck, and was also cool with Wooten, came to see us and told us that Wooten wanted to make peace. Well hell, I was all for that. So that next Sunday, he came to the hospital with the same gun and we settled it. Today, me, him and Chuck are the best of friends. I tease him today about how he could have never pulled the trigger since he was trembling so much, and he responds that if I ever want the job finished, just fuck with him again.

This is actually a photograph that I saw of my Uncle Charles when I was reading the news on the internet one day during a run-up to the 2008 Presidential election. A Life magazine photographer was in Cleveland taking pictures of citizens casting their ballots. Imagine my surprise when I saw my uncle!

But what I thought was funny is that this happened February 5, two days before I would have turned 19 and lost my eligibility under The Ole Man’s work insurance coverage (Note: My Uncle’s tend to refer to my grandfather as “The Ole Man” in their stories.). Now when we first were admitted, they immediately took Chuck to surgery and removed his bullet, and were telling me that it would be best to leave mine in. It wasn’t until The Ole Man showed and assured them that I was still covered did they decide it would be “in my best interest” to remove it.

Yeah, me and Chuck’s gunshots and surgery are in almost identical spots. So that is the story of the gunfight at the crosstown poolroom. Now, that is the bullet they took out, but I still got the one in me when them police shot my ass off that roof in Lakewood.

In my Uncle E’s story, the only thing that looks like the loyalty my father would have admired occurred when my Uncle Charles went to the Poolroom. My father’s brother, My Uncle B.B., would have tried to talk him out of it and certainly would have had sense enough to stay home and tell someone in a position to intervene to do so. My father would have thought that details of this actual story confirmed his impression of my uncles as comedic hustlers estranged from being cool. But for showing up and devising a plan to fight with his brother, my father definitely would have thought they were cool brothers for that.

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