Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"D'ere he is!" 

Inspired this week to re-watch the seminal PBS documentary 14-episode series from 1987, Eyes On The Prize about the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1965. An early episode focuses in part on the story of Emmet Till. This time, I was particularly moved by a prominent figure in this story, Mr. Mose Wright, an elderly former sharecropper and great uncle of Till, who stood up in front of an angry racist crowd and pointed out Till’s killers. There was something about his courage and decency I found deeply beautiful. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Edgar Allan Poe

Recently enjoyed the recent American Masters from PBS
episode which featured Edgar Allan Poe. Reminded me of a childhood obsession with Poe, his life as well as his poems and stories. Poe was a vital creative force whose own demons kept him from success. Hammered by debt all his life, whenever he achieved even a taste of fame and fortune, unwise decisions, sometimes based on his own arrogance, often caused his downfall. His talent cannot be denied - he was an absurdly brilliant wordsmith and even developed the modern detective mystery story as we know it  - he was often jealous of competitors and his background as a literary critic allowed him to lash out at colleagues of his time, even the great Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others because he coveted their success and the public's respect of their literary achievements. But his work endures. though primarily known for his horror and fantasy themed work  - of which he only produced 12 out of hundreds of other writings - the masters' darker art sticks in the mind like a viscous spider's web.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

“They call me MR. Poitier.”

Throughout life, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the films of the great Caribbean-born actor Sidney Poiter. Now a sturdy 90 years young, the iconic thespian’s most famous movies, the ones I used to enjoy on television as a child, featured an actor whom you couldn’t take your eyes off of yet his performances seemed to be indictments not of the black experience, but the white one.

Whether it be Lilies In The Field,  In The Heat Of The Night, or Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Poitier characters were the sole black face of any significance:  the tragic negro who was simply a conduit for the white characters’ social conscience.  Even though his very presence was important to me, the fact that a black star could even exist that wasn’t a stereotype, the fact that he seemed super-human and a righteously perfect made me think Hollywood used Poitier to trot out & herald its half-ass liberalism which finally made  him less a person than an idea. He was certainly unlike any black man I ever knew. 
Still, over the years I came to appreciate the man for his dignity and the academy award winning quality of his performances and the dynamism . – He was just always fascinating to watch.  Over the years as he became more powerful, Poitier because he began different kinds of roles, including romantic dramas that made him seem more accessible as a human being, as well as taking on a career as a successful director.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veteran's Day

My late father Joseph E. Brown served in two wars during a time when black soldiers were finally getting the respect they deserved in the Unites States military. He was drafted into the U. S. Army at the end of WWII and released early when the war ended. Then the Korean War came and in his third year of medical school, he was called back into service. Soon dad found himself in a medical unit in the thick of the fighting in North Korea. He never kept a gun.

He told me bits of his experiences when I was a kid and later gathered them into a book. He was very proud of his service.

Monday, November 6, 2017


Most subway riders know there’s a 3-inch gap between where a car door meets the platform. We pay it no mind. But to me, it’s a chasm, 44 miles wide, 100 deep. It’s where the tip of one of my crutches slipped through today. I tumbled to the dirty concrete platform and had to be lifted to my feet by strangers.

The mean old streets of New York are mean enough. The last thing you need is to be is "disabled". Having been struck down in the street by a speeding biker recently, resulting in a broken foot resulting in surgery, I’ve learned the hard way what it’s like to brave the big bad city, one foot forward.

I usually take the subway ride to work in the morning, arriving in roughly 25 minutes. This all has changed. First, a walk to the station, which used to take about 10 minutes (this has stretched to twice that time).  Each step, or swing, requires three times the energy, so by the time I arrive at the station, I find myself already damp with sweat.

When I enter the station, this is when the real fun begins. In a typical commuter morning, people pile on the trains, eyes either facing forward, or ears crazy-glued to their smart phones; the routine has become so burned in the collective DNA that any deviation is met with utter shock. As I try to adjust myself so I can board a car against a wave of retreating commuters, no one bothers to allow any leeway. Often rushing feet threaten to kick my crutches underneath me. Very few acknowledge my predicament and at worst, nearly send me reeling to the platform with no apology.
Once arriving to my stop, I set about the task of trying to locate an elevator or escalator. I pull out my trusty app – and lo & behold, no such luck. This means hopping up, step by step, to the street. Yes – sometimes some generous fellow commuter may offer to lend a hand, and I deeply appreciate it, but at this juncture I’m on my own.

Once I see the light of day again, I get enveloped by the wave of the crowd, inevitably traveling in the opposite direction, again completely oblivious to my plight. I bob to and fro, as if on skis - trying to be avoided being sideswiped to the sidewalk, until finally after squeezing through the revolving doors, mercilessly pushed from behind and thrust into my office lobby, exhausted and dripping with perspiration.
And so my day begins.

Monday, September 11, 2017

BZZZzzzzz: The Humble Hornet

Throughout this life, The Leopard has had an interesting & complicated relationship with hornets. The little critters seem to have turned up in different stages of my development - boy to adult. It’s like they somehow know me and come back, again and again, to let me know what’s what.

When I was about 9, my friends and I were playing in my backyard. One of our fvorite games was to pretend we were real-life GI Joes. One pal was the “Land Adventurer”. another, the “Air Adventurer”, and I was of course, the “Black Adventurer.”  In our imagination, we were all battling the evil henchman of some super-villain when, as we we jostled around, I fell directly, butt first, on a hornet. The thing about hornets, of course  - is that they don’t lose their stingers, like bees. They just keep stinging you.  - And it did. Also, they release a noxious venom that burns like hell. I remember running around my little yard like a maniac while my little pals stared at me, stunned and totally perplexed of what I was going on. Playtime was apparently over.

My next round was when I was in my 30’s.  A group of us went to the Catskills for a  weekend jaunt when as we hiked through some bushes we disturbed an enormous nest. Everyone ran in different directions and got out themselves harm’s way, except me - I awkwardly tripped over a log and fell forward onto my palms, buying my face in the dirt. As I tried to lift myself up, I was stung in several times on my cheeks and lips as well as along the length of my right leg for day I resembled John Merrick.

Finally, a few years ago I was visiting a museum in Pennsylvania my girlfriend. Behind the main building was a picnic area, with a tiny a bridge that crossed a small brook. Even though it was blocked off, I stupidly (and stubbornly) tried to climb through protruding shrubbery to walk across it. And, you guessed it – ran into a small cloud of hornets that proceeded to sting me my outstretched fingers.  Then and there, I finally learned my lesson. I am no match for the humble hornet. For now on, I steer clear.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Spirit Voice: Paul Simon

We sailed up a river wide as a sea
And slept on the banks
On the leaves of a banyan tree
And all of these spirit voices rule the night

Some stories are magical, meant to be sung
Songs from the mouth of the river
When the world was young
And all of these spirit voices rule the night
- "Spirit Voices"

I have been a fan of Paul Simon’s music as long as I can remember, starting with Simon and Garfunkel and all throughout my young life into the present (Like many folks, I first heard his music on the soundtrack of film The Graduate and it was like a gut punch). I have always felt as if Simon’s voice and lyrics were my spiritual conduit - whose music and art spoke to me in the deepest ways. I’m not sure what I have in common with him as human beings, (I’ve read many interviews over the years and he does seem to be as neurotic and insecure as I. I certainly can’t think of an artist whose work feels closer to my personal sensibilities.  His lyrics, whether they are about love, relationships, or even political ideology seem to mirror my own thoughts. I always felt as if he had a window into my head. Of course his poetic lyricism is far, far beyond what I could ever articulate.

The smartest people in the world
Had gathered in Los Angeles
To analyze the love affair
And possibly unscramble us
And we sat among our photographs
Examined everyone
And in the end, we compromised
And met the morning sun
-  "Think Too Much"
Despite the hit songs everyone knows (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years, You can Call me Al, etc.) on many tunes he is capable of some the most introspective words I’ve ever heard. And I think that’s where my love of his art comes from: from the very beginning, he’s never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. And for me, that’s about as courageous as it gets.