I've carried his picture in every calendar book I've ever owned. It's a reminder to stand up straight and keep my nose clean.
In this picture he is the young prosecutor of evil politicians in Washington or Samoa or someplace like that. In this picture he is younger by almost several decades than I am now. Yet in this picture he is already a father to two kids and he has agreed to take in one more - his wife's teenage cousin (me). A thirty-something battling injustice with two small kids takes in a teenager? Man, crazy don't even cut it, but he and my cousin did just that.
And once there, he let me punch him as hard as I could, put make-up on him, come home late and, ok occasionally stoned (but only twice with the stone part - well, at least that I can remember), pour new friends into an already kid-filled house, and each time the phone rang, get out of my way as I ran down stairs and through rooms, screaming "IT'S FOR ME!" (It rarely was).
He's now a judge, black robe and everything. And he fights for the American Way - you know, the one we used to have. He's fair and he's smart and that's rare, so bad guys hate him and the rest of us get to breathe easier.
Years ago at another milestone birthday of his (and the one I now face), I thanked him for teaching me who Highly Salassie was, how to play cards without the threat of violence, and that I always had a home and a family. Such small unimportant things. Maybe for others as normal as dinner on the table or milk in the fridge. But they were enough to keep me off the streets and out of bad, bad things. I told him then and today I tell him again:
Because you were a stupid thirty-something taking in an insane teenager I am not dead.
So, Happy Birthday, Ben. Happy, Happy Birthday. Put on that black dress and go kick some bad booty. Me? I'm going to take a deep breathe and give gratitude I'm still around to watch.
MY PRIVATE CONEY presents IT WAS HER NEW YORK, the short stories that accompany the work-in-progress video and photo collection of the same name (myprivateconey.com - media link - IT WAS HER NEW YORK). The stories and the media explore the tender rubble that holds both my mother, Florence's and New York's soul as one disappears into old age and the other into gentrification. All are real observations and/or experiences with very little tall-tale telling.
Except when it makes the story better.
Please visit myprivateconey.com for additional information and sample works.