Play

Pause
Episode 112:
Ryan Sickler
Notes: Released Aug 31, 2015
Ryan Sickler, Co-Host of The Crabfeast Podcast as well as a comedian/writer/producer, stops by TIFAH to talk about the podcast game as well as raising kids. This is his second appearance and it's amazing!

Conor McGregor – Don’t believe the hype!

Mon Jul 13, 2015

I was there. I saw it. McGregor Vs Mendes at the MGM Arena this past Saturday July 11th, 2015.  Between the cocky yells and drunken  hordes of Irish waving flags screaming that they were there to “take over.” I am Irish and Puerto Rican so I was only allowed to partially take over the mostly downtrodden parts of town the sharply suited Irish left behind. I have been an MMA fan before UFC 1 and remain one to this day. It is my sport. I love it. I not only go to UFC events all over America, I also support local “smoker” fights at MMA gyms all over the West Coast. I am not an expert. Nothing more then a tremendous and supportive fan. That being said, here are are few thoughts on the fight:

1) He is the number on draw of all time so now current fighters and almost all those coming up underneath will act like him. Why is this bad? The reason why the UFC is so great is it is the exact opposite of boxing. Because there is a martial arts current running underneath, right next to the wrestling current, there is a mutual respect for your opponent. The UFC has been able to be extremely profitable and still have the fighters respect one another. Sure there were rivalries but 99% of the time there was a genuine respect for the other fighter. I don’t believe Connor McGregor just made his fortune by breaking that mold. Every fighter just learned that if you want to be a draw and make money, all you have to do is act like a drunk douchebag at last call and money will fall from the sky. The UFC just became boxing – over night.

And just like drunk douchbags at last call…

2) Connor McGregor is all talk. But Mick, he just won the belt. He’s the CHAMP! So was Brock Lessnar. Connor McGregor had full camp cardio against a guy who only had two weeks. Sure you can say Mendes shouldn’t have taken the fight on two weeks notice but you take the shot when you can. He gassed out. He didn’t have the cardio. There are rumors Mendes doesn’t keep his cardio up between fights and we saw proof of that Saturday night. We saw proof of something else – McGregor can only fight standing up. ZERO Jiu Jitsu skills. ZERO wrestling. None. Zilch. Mendes picked him up and slammed him down at will. Connor, in full McGregor form, acted like he was being patient and waiting. That’s better then shitting your pants in panic when you realize somehow/someway your camp has let you believe your 1985 Karate Kid fighting stance will work. And the worst thing of all happened – it did. He won. So now… he talks himself deeper into a whole where a full rounded fighter waits to destroy him.

3) All the hype sold tickets. All the other fighters saw that being a dick and disrespecting your opponent broke every record in the history of the UFC. Something else might have been broken Saturday too – the UFC itself. I see nothing but a slide from here on out unless Dana rights the ship, which based on the recent Reebok deal prohibiting fighters from garnering their own sponsors, I doubt will happen anytime soon. And let me go on the record saying I am happy for McGregor. He hyped himself, first he believed it, then he got other people to believe it to. I thought Aldo dropping out and Mendes getting the fight was the worst thing that could have happened to McGregor. But it turned out to be the best because he gets to drink his own Kool Aid until his next fight. I don’t believe McGregor is the same kind of athlete as GSP, who somehow picked up wrestling at an insane elite level and rounded out his game. I saw this because McGregor couldn’t even sprawl against Mendes.

My prediction: McGregor is an accurate powerful puncher with a great chin who will move up to 155 after October. He is an incredibly GREAT and FUN fighter to watch. He knows how to promote a fight (even if I don’t agree with the way in which he does it) But I truly believe the first time he faces a fighter with Mendes’s wrestling and striking power with FULL CARDIO – HE WILL GET DESTROYED. DOMINATED. I cannot believe the hype. I was there. I saw a fighter lying on his back talking shit to the man punching him the face to quell the raging storm inside of him screaming out “Connor, keep talking shit because some day… some day.. they are all going to find out the truth… and until then, keep running your mouth and cashing those checks.” Like Lessnar, there was a crack in the time/space continuam that allowed a one dimensional fighter to become champ. NOT FOR LONG.

MMA: UFC 189-Mendes vs McGregor


1 Comment




Amazing piece about #TMBS 100th episode!

Sun May 31, 2015

Hey Everybody,

Just wanted to share an incredible piece of writing a fan of the show emailed me in celebration of the 100th episode. I attached a screen grab of her email  as well as cut and copied her actual essay below that. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Thanks for being a part of the journey! Mick

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 4.52.49 PM

And her is Rachel Newcombe’s essay…

THE MICK BETANCOURT SHOW

                                          CONGRATULATIONS

from rachel newcombe

100th Podcast Episode

 

 

 

Trust me.

 

This is what I’ve been telling my friends, patients and colleagues for the past year. “You will want to listen to this podcast,” I tell them.

 

Trust me.

 

Just listen.

 

I tell them if they listen to The Mick Betancourt Show they will not be disappointed.

 

How could I not fall for Mick, a guy whose podcast’s tagline is: Half Comedy. Half Drama. All Heart. There’s an important detail I tell my therapist friends who have gone to psychoanalytic institutes, I tell them Mick has established an institute too, The Institute for Advanced Hustle. Affectionately referred to as TIFAH. Although it’s not a psychoanalytic institute I tell my friends that Mick’s institute has many stories about civilization and many stories about its discontents. Life lessons that get to the heart of the matter.

 

Betancourt, host/headmaster of the institute created his podcast show from a life of absences. An absent mother who eventually landed in jail for bank robbery, an absent father who died in his early twenties, a grandfather who died in Mick’s arms when Mick was 14 years old, along with the absences of food, safe shelter, guidance or any form of maternal protection. Mick was a scrappy kid. But a scrappy kid who figured out how to survive.

 

I tell my friends that Betancourt entered my life through Paul Gilmartin’s podcast the Mental Illness Happy Hour, in May of 2014. I had no idea who he was prior to this podcast. But, when the interview with Gilmartin was winding down and Mick mentioned that he, too had a podcast I knew this would not be last I heard of Mick Betancourt.

 

“But who is he?” my colleagues ask.

 

I tell them, “Mick is the real deal.”

 

The minute I hear the words “real deal” come out of my mouth I know that it sounds like a ridiculous overused cliché so I explain why it works.

 

These are the things Mick is not:

 

Affected

Gratuitous

Pretentious

Calculating

Contrived

 

 

Here is what Mick is:

 

Kind

Indomitable

Creative

Funny

Gracious

Curious

Open

Kind

 

I use the word kind twice. This is not a mistake. It’s deliberate. I have listened to Mick interviewed by other podcasters and even if a question seems inane or the host is “off the rails” (Mick’s term) he stays present and doesn’t get cranky.

 

My friend from New York listens to his first Mick Betancourt podcast:

 

“Of course you love him,” he says. Later I find out that he, too, has become a regular listener, this psychoanalyst friend of mine. We’ve started a club.

 

Mick often asks he guests “What is your walkabout?” He describes what this means in the recent episode # 99 with author Jerry Stahl. Micks wants to know how people navigate life, what propels them to walk on the earth, struggles, fears, dreads and hope.

 

Mick wants to get to know the essence of someone. I do too.

 

I think all of us on some level want to know how to be, how to wake up each morning and walkabout. How do we do it?

 

Mick’s podcast points us in that direction. Every Monday Mick gives us another opportunity to hear someone tell how they navigate the world.

 

I imagine someone asking me to describe Mick Betancourt’s walkabout and I immediately think of the lyrics from a Grateful Dead song:

 

“Uncle John’s Band”

Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more,
‘Cause when life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door.
Think this through with me, let me know your mind,
Wo, oh, what I want to know, is are you kind?

 

This past September I make a plan to attend the LA Podfest and decide to email Mick to see if I can interview him. Mick doesn’t know me yet he responds quickly. “Of course,” he says.

 

So on a sunny Saturday morning in September I take my first Uber ride headed to Mick’s office in Studio City

 

This is my hustle.

 

Interviewing Mick Betancourt.

 

Nervous about getting stuck in traffic I leave the Sofitel in Beverly Hills early and begin talking to the Uber driver who I find out is a screenwriter. I tell him why I am going to Studio City and who I am about to interview. The driver asks me about the podcast. I describe an interview I just listened to and my Uber driver tells me he took an acting course with this man. Bobby Moresco (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) an Academy Award winning writer, director and producer. During his conversation with Mick, Moresco talks about his life that began in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City and how with perseverance, talent and hustle he found his way to Hollywood. It was fascinating. Energizing.

The Uber driver asks me about my life and when I tell him I am a psychoanalyst he tells me about an ex-girlfriend who went to school to be a therapist. Our conversation unfolds, we share stories and when it is time to go interview Mick we exchange business cards. Somehow this encounter that takes place outside of Mick’s office feels fitting. It makes sense. Mick is all about change encounters.

 

My friends start listening to TMBS.

 

“You’re right,” they tell me.

 

So what is it about Mick? What’s his story?

 

On his IMDb page you can quickly glace at his background: Co-executive producer for Necessary Roughness, Supervising producer for Breakout Kings, he’s worked on other shows –too, Detroit 1-8-7, Chicago P.D., Law and Order: SVU, and also he wrote his own movie, No Place Like Home.

 

My friend who is a recovering alcoholic listens to her first TMBS podcast.

 

When I run into her in the produce aisle of our local market we spend 20 minutes in front of the eggplants and carrots talking about the podcast she just listened to, the Nestor Rodriquez (comedian/podcaster/producer) episode. She loved it.

 

Another club member.

 

I knew she would like Mick. On his podcast Mick talks about his own struggles with alcohol and drugs, his path to sobriety and being in recovery. He speaks with honesty about his addictions and his guests often share stories about their addictions and recovery.

 

So here is what happens when I finally meet Mick Betancourt.

 

He greets me outside of his office, we go inside, and I settle down on a couch across from him. After seeing me fumble around with the recording gadget on my phone Mick offers to use his equipment to record it and later he sends me a copy.

 

I tell Mick I want to write a story about podcasting for the LA Times and that I want to ask him some questions. I ask if it is okay to have more of a rambling conversation and I am not at all surprised when he agrees.

So for the next hour and a half Mick talks and I listen. I talk and Mick listens.

Mick feels more somber, a bit more serious than he does on his podcast. But his presence is palpable. Within minutes I am following his train of thought, all else becomes quiet, there is just something about Mick that embodies a knowingness about not knowing, when he speaks there is just no artifice.

 

I hear stories about his childhood friends and their capers and I also hear stories about hunger, loneliness and fear.

Flying back to Seattle a few days later, thinking about my interview with Mick, a persistent thought plants itself inside my brain: Mick Betancourt has experienced far too many traumas for any young boy to endure. For anyone to endure.

 

Yet, Mick is not bitter. In fact, he leads with gratitude. A lot of gratitude.

 

Mick’s own hustle and how he figured out how to thrive is what motivates him to do a podcast each week. He interviews people who share their stories of how they became who they are.

What is hard?

What did you have to overcome?

What lessons do you want to share?

 

Toward the end of our conversation I ask Mick what it is like for him to do interviews and how he gets his guests to open up and talk about adversity and hustles.

Mick tells me, “I trade horses.” Embarrassingly, I’ve never heard this expression so he explains it to me. Mick believes that in order for his guests to open up and be more revealing then he too must be willing to do the same thing. Hence, trading horses. After listening to about 60 of Mick’s interviews this is what I know for sure, Mick Betancourt is a damn good horse trader.

 

Some of my favorite interviews are with Nikki Toscano; writer and producer, David Rodriquez; writer and director, Joe Sabatino; writer, director, pro football player. The majority of Mick’s guests are in the entertainment field but Mick also interviewed his hairdresser, Jason Edwards because he found his life story and hustle interesting.

 

There are a few interviews where Mick is laughing so hard he is gasping for air. I love these moments. One that stands out for me is an episode in December 2014. For the second time, Mick was interviewing Nick Santora, writer, producer, director, husband, dad, and author. I listened to Nick’s first interview and loved hearing how he went from New York lawyer, to his first writing gig for the Sopranos and all his shows that followed.

 

Nick had just come out with a children’s book, I Want an Alien for Christmas. Mick starting talking with Nick and listeners could sense that these two men had a history, a familiarity. Mick was trying to ask Nick questions and Nick was being silly, avoidant and quite funny. The more serious Mick got the sillier Nick became, farting noises included. Mick gave into the mood and joined in with the goofiness. I felt like I was listening to two fifth grade boys during recess except these two fifth grade boys have enough combined talent and energy to light up all of California.

 

I continue to tell my friends to listen to the Mick Betancourt Show.

 

Now, in addition to saying, “trust me” I add:

 

Mick is one of the most inspiring human beings I’ve encountered.

 

 Congratulations on your 100th episode, Mick Betancourt.

 

****

I am truly humbled by her essay. I never imagined in a million years I would move somebody like that let alone try and do it a 100 times. Thank you all so much for being a part of this and THANK YOU Rachel for taking the time to let me (and now the rest of the listeners) what you think of the podcast!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


1 Comment




NEW PAGES OF THE HARD WAY – up until 9pm tonight!

Sun Apr 19, 2015

…and you missed it! I had the pages up for almost 12 hours and now they are down. You can join the mailing list for special sneak peeks that don’t even make it up on the website! Thanks again for all your support! Mick


4 Comments




Chapter One – The Hard Way – Rewrite

Thu Feb 19, 2015

CHAPTER ONE

Chicago is a motherfucker.

Maybe that’s a bad word where you come from but in Chicago it’s a term of endearment.

“What’s up, motherfucker! Great to see ya’. How you been?”

“Tell that crazy motherfucker Jimmy I love him.”

“You’re one bad motherfucker, motherfucker.”

You get the idea.

The use of that word is all you need to know about Chicago. Even our compliments are barbed with an edge to keep you humble and on your toes.

And then there’s church. You go to church to be accountable to something other than your own savagery. If the Catholic Church hadn’t caught hold in Chicago we would’ve killed each other off around 1890. Everybody waddles into their respected houses of worship on Sunday to erase the drunken rage filled atrocities that occurred the previous of Monday through Saturday. You sit there praying, trying to convince God and yourself that next week shall be different.

Everything you need to know about a person from Chicago can be answered with these two questions and you can bet your ass somebody will ask them while you’re here.

1) What are you? Yes. This is a real question asked all the time. Chicago still operates on an immigrant mentality where you nationality is your business card.

2) What neighborhood did you grow up in? This is key. It let’s people know how much suffering you’ve had to endure. If you came up in a poor neighborhood full of thieves and thugs, you get respect. Rich neighborhood with no problems, no struggle, no suffering? You’re suspect and might get labeled a “Jagoff.”

Jagoff is a shiny Chicago gem.

Whatever happens, you do not want to be known as a jagoff. Once labeled a jagoff, it’s very hard to shake. It’s like getting a nickname. Once you get it, that’s it. I grew up with guys with nicknames like Blockhead, Balt, Swamy, Shitbagger and Bobby Bag of Dicks (Dicks for short or BBD in classier company.) You don’t think Bobby wanted to change his nickname? Of course he did but once you get it, that’s it. The same is true when labeled a Jagoff. You’d have to open a hundred homeless shelters and cure Aids and then maybe, maybe, people would stop calling you a jagoff but even then you run the risk of somebody saying, “Can you believe that Jagoff just cured AIDS?”

Humble.

Keep you on your toes.

This is the beautifully rough and raw Chicago I was born into on April 14th, 1974 at St Ann’s Hospital on Division Avenue. My Dad was 17 and Mom was 18. My father’s nickname Big Mickey. He was 5’11” with a long black ponytail that hung past his strong shoulders almost down to his waist. He rocked a biker vibe in a neighborhood with no bikers, always wearing turquois jewelry and denim head to toe, smeared with grease and dirt from whatever mechanical or factory work he could scrape together. His father was off the boat from Puerto Rico, his mother off the boat from Ireland but he inherited almost all the Puerto Rican genes. He immediately dropped out of high school to take care of his new and unplanned family that consisted of a baby boy and a volatile freckle faced Irish girl from Oak Park. They tried their best to make it work but they were young with no positive examples to lean on when times got rough and rough it got. So rough that Mom split right before I turned two leaving my father to raise me in a neighborhood called Humboldt Park. We lived at 906 N. Trumball down the block from Chicago Avenue with his mother (my Grandma) and two sisters, Ninette and Nancy in a house illegally converted into a two flat. We shared that house with a black family who lived upstairs.

There were three scruffy kids in the black family. Tyrone was sixteen with the muscular frame of a grown man but the face of a child. Dude was eleven and constantly covered in dirt and mischief. Bebe was nine with a thin layer of black flesh stretched taut over her boney frame.

Chicago is a very segregated town and the black family took a real risk living in Humboldt Park. Humboldt Park was and still is a Puerto Rican strong hold. You have to drive under a giant steel Puerto Rican flag to enter or leave. Everybody has their own neighborhood with it’s own rules. Pretend they don’t exist and it’s not up to you what the consequences will be.

I was Puerto Rican but not Puerto Rican, Irish but not Irish, white but not white. I lived in a racial purgatory. Bebe was my best friend. We hung out all day every day. Because of that, I thought I was black until I was seven. Bebe, Dude and Tyrone were the only kids in the neighborhood I could understand when they talked. I picked up every inflections and tone of their dialogue and every nuance of their mannerisms. If you were talking to me on the phone when I was five you would’ve sworn you were talking to poor black kid from Lawndale. When you asked me to do something, I’d roll my head around like it was on a greased rail and sass back “Ain’t!” Maybe I was more like Jacky from 227.

But inside our house, nobody cared whether you were black, white or Puerto Rican because there were bigger problems to worry about like how to eat, how to avoid eviction and how to find work. Some problems were obvious. Others showed up without warning or notice.

One summer morning I was sitting on the front porch when Bebe sat down next to me, her thick hair pulled into a side ponytail held together by a black rubber band with two small white marbles on it.

“You wanna juice,” she asked?

“Nah, I ain’t thirsty,” I replied.

“I ain’t asking you if you want a juice. I’m asking you if you want to juice.”

“I dunno what you’re talking about.”

“Lemme show you,” she said and walked inside.

I followed Bebe upstairs to the crawl space next to her apartment. We walked in to see Dude and Tyrone already there waiting. The walls were dark orange with no windows. The heavy damp air smelled wet cardboard. The roof was slanted making you feel like the ceiling was always about to cave in.

As Bebe walked to the middle of the room, Tyrone shut the door. Bebe pulled down her dirty white denim shorts and got on all fours. Tyrone walked over, got behind her, unzipped his jeans, knelt down behind her and thrust his hips forward. Bebe let out a moaning noise. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what they were doing. After a few minutes, Tyrone stood and zipped his pants up then leaned against the door so nobody could come in or out. Dude dropped his pants, squatted behind his sister and followed his brother’s lead. Tyrone glanced over and nodded at me, an odd affirmation we were all in this together. That’s when I realized I was next. Dude turned his head and when our eyes met, we both started nervously giggling. Tyrone shushed us to be quiet or somebody might come in and bust us. Dude pulled his pants up and scampered behind his big brother, still trying not to laugh.

“Your turn, Little Mickey.” Tyrone said.

Everything about this felt wrong. It also felt like there was no way of getting out of it. I walked behind Bebe, unzipped my shorts, pulled down my white and red Shazam Underoos and knelt behind her like I’d just watched Dude and Tyrone do. I pumped my hips back and forth until I felt the appropriate amount of time passed then stopped. Bebe looked over her shoulder and offered an innocent gentle smile. I gave her one back. We held each other’s gaze for a moment, both helpless, both kids in the middle of something with no idea how to get out. It arrived. It happened. I participated. I cannot undo. I cannot unsee.

I pulled up my shorts while she did the same. Tyrone and Dude headed out leaving Bebe and I walking down the stairs in silence until she confided her aunt bought her a pack of Hubba Bubba gum and she had two pieces left. Did I want one?

Juicing became a big part of our life. We juiced when we were bored, excited, sad or whenever we thought of it. Sometimes it’d be all four of us; sometimes it’d be just Bebe and me. The first time it was just she and I, Bebe explained how I’d been doing it wrong, that I had to actually be inside her for it to work. She didn’t want to say anything before and embarrass me in front of her brothers.

I thought this was normal behavior. I thought this is what every kid does. Every kid had secrets.

I was six.

217644_175292542520696_2182055_n

Things weren’t any calmer down in our apartment. Ninette, my Dad’s older sister, had long thin black hair, olive skin and the gaunt sunken cheekbones of a junkie. Nancy, my father’s youngest sister, was on the straight and narrow. Nancy carried a few extra pounds along with a fierce determination to get out of the neighborhood. She was studying to be a nurse and no matter what insanity went on in the house, she made it to school and always did her homework. She was rarely around, trying to stay away from the madness and because of that, I have almost no memories of her from this time.

My father’s mother, who I called Grandma, was off the boat Irish who wobbled around all day and night in polyester slacks and stretchy tops guzzling Schlitz malt liquor like a Longshoreman on disability. She was always insanely drunk operating in one of two modes: crooning or complaining. If she wasn’t singing an obscure big band tune she was complaining about the world and what people needed to do to make it a better place. I always wondered how she knew about the world because I never saw her leave the house. Not once. The only thing she watched on TV was The Lawrence Welk Show. While on, she’d gracefully sway around the living room, eyes closed, dancing with an imaginary prince, lost in the music and the fantasy. If that’s where she went when she was drunk, no wonder she never took a sober breath.

My Grandfather barely spoke English and my Grandma didn’t speak Puerto Rican yet they had three kids together. That is what happens when the drinking power of the Irish meets the power of the Puerto Rican penis. Those two powers came together to make three children and a divorce. Magic.

Nintette was the oldest child and loved heroin and men who beat her. One Saturday, late in the afternoon, we were hanging in the living room; me, Dad, Ninette and her monthly piece of garbage, a pudgy Hispanic guy whose greatest accomplishment was his goatee which he stroked with great respect and passion.

While he was fondling his goatee, Ninette made a comment that it looked like he was jerking off a dick on his face. Even at six I thought this was funny. The guy did not.

“Shut the fuck up, bitch,” he yelled.

“Don’t talk to my sister like that,” my father shouted back.

“Fuck you, you’re not my father,” Ninette hissed at my Dad, “and fuck you too,” she screamed at her boyfriend.

In a flash, without a warning, her boyfriend slapped her.

My father leapt off the sofa and got in his face.

“Don’t you ever put hands on my sister!”

Ninette’s boyfriend offer up a smile. A smile I would see a few more times through out my life. It is the evil smile a coward always offers before trying to hurt you.

“What’s the matter faggot? Afraid a getting your ass beat in front of your kid,” he cackled.

“Let’s take it outside,” my father said as he charged out the front door.

Ninette tried to hold the gangbanger back.

“Get off me, bitch. I’ma beat his ass then I’ma beat yours then you gonna suck my dick.”

He shucked her off and bolted out after my father.

Ninette ran after him, slamming the door behind her.

I stood frozen in place, staring at the door. Five minutes later my father walked back inside. He was alone, his hands covered in blood with long strands of black hair wedged under bloody fingernails.

He plopped down on the sofa; eyes darting from the floor to the door then back down at the floor again. He finally looked up at me.

“You ever see a man hit a woman, you better do something about it or you’re just as bad as the guy hitting the woman. Understand?”

“Okay… What if that guy comes back?”

“If he comes back I’ll kill him.” My Dad heaved himself off the sofa and went to the bathroom to wash the blood from his hands.

I was scared. I didn’t want my Dad to have to kill somebody but murder was just put on the table. Don’t get me wrong; my father wasn’t a bully or a guy presenting a cold-blooded hard ass to the world. He just knew how to stand up when he had to. One time a burglar kicked in our basement window in the middle of the night trying to rob the place. My father grabbed the only thing within arms reach – a yellow wiffle ball bat and ran downstairs after the guy. The burglar had a .38 and dropped it, scarred of the lunatic with balls enough to charge after an armed home invader with a wiffle ball bat. My Dad did what he had to do – right or wrong.

I wondered if I’d ever have to kill somebody? What if the guy that hit Ninette came back and I was there. Would I have to help my Dad kill him? The concept of murder was one of the many myths of manhood that almost killed me. The idea that somebody might have to die and I might be the person making the call. And if I can make that call and I’m a nobody kid that means somebody can make that call against me.

I couldn’t tell my dad how scared I was. Scared for him. Scared for me. Scared for Ninette. Even scared for the gangbanger. I didn’t want to see anybody die. I wanted to tell him but I didn’t know how and there was nobody around to teach me. I didn’t know what when I was a kid but after years of hard living I found out why.

In Chicago (and maybe where you live too) you quickly learn there is a price to pay for people knowing how you feel. Feeling too happy and you hear something like “What are you so happy about?” On the flip side, if you’re feeling sad you’ll hear something like, “What are you sad about? Keep it up and I’ll give you something to really to be sad about.” So you learn two things 1) Keep your feelings to yourself 2) Feelings are a serious liability.

It’s not that my family didn’t care how I felt; there was just no more room for feelings. Life was hard enough. Feelings are nothing more than an unwelcomed burden stacked on an already fragile barely tolerable existence. There’s no room for anything else, especially feelings that run the risk of shining an even harsher light on a situation where everything is fucked unless you pretend otherwise. So you realize you can never say you’re afraid, never say you’re happy, sad or fill in the blank.

So when people ask how you’re doing, you learn the only correct answer…

I’m fine.

Copyright 2015

***********************************

So this is the second pass. I would consider this a first draft. I wanted to show you how I went from the bones of a story (the previous post) and tried to dig out the moments I liked and expand on them. I also wanted to tee up Chicago a little more thus the new opening. I am going to try and get up a rough draft of Chapter 2 before I go on vacation. Looking forward to your comments.

Mick


9 Comments




The Hard Way – Chapter One

Fri Feb 13, 2015

PREFACE

I burdened myself with way too many questions as I approached writing this. Should I write it as a book I’d want to read or one that you’d want to read? The business people in my life demanded I know my audience before I typed a word. I wondered if I should write everything as it happened and how I felt about at that exact moment or do I write about it from the other side of everything?

I couldn’t write a word. I thought myself into paralysis.

I am a quote junkie and found one that broke through the clutter of my worried mind.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence.
Write the truest sentence you know.”

- Ernest Hemingway

So that’s my game plan. I will let the editors edit and I will do the writing. I will start with one honest sentence and hope another is right behind it. A warning though… sometimes the truth is not pretty. The beginning of this book is rough. My intention is not to shock you but to be honest. Like my dear friend and fellow writer Rafael Alvarez taught me… “go to the river bunk and everything else will take care of itself.”

So walk with me to the river where I promise beauty, love and kindness await.

 

My name is Mick and this is my story.

2015

 

CHAPTER ONE

My parents were teenagers when I was born. Dad was 17 and Mom was 18. My Dad, who was called Big Mickey, immediately dropped out of high school to take care of his new and unplanned family that consisted of a baby boy and a volatile freckle faced Irish girl from Oak Park. They tried their best but it wasn’t meant to be. Mom split just before I turned two leaving my father to raise me in a neighborhood in Chicago called Humboldt Park. He was 5’11” with a long black ponytail that hung down almost to his waist. He rocked a biker vibe in a neighborhood with no bikers, always wearing turquois jewelry and denim head to toe, smeared with grease and dirt from whatever mechanic or factory work he could scrape together. We lived with his mother (my Grandma) and two sisters, Ninette and Nancy in a house illegally converted into a two flat. We shared the house with a black family who lived upstairs.

There were three kids in the black family. Tyrone was sixteen, the muscular frame of a grown man with the face of a child. Dude was eleven, constantly covered in dirt and mischief and Bebe was nine with a thin layer of black flesh stretched taut over a boney frame.

Bebe was my best friend and because I hung out with her and Dude every day, I thought I was black until I was seven. There were a few other kids on the block but they only hung out with other Puerto Rican kids. Even though my father had most of the Puerto Rican genes, I inherited the Irish looks from my mother. Thank God I inherited the Puerto Rican temperament. The Puerto Rican kids didn’t want to hang out with me but that was okay, I thought I was black and so did Dude and Bebe. In Humboldt Park, Blacks and Puerto Ricans didn’t get along or hang out together. Puerto Ricans wanted Humboldt Park to be all theirs. Humboldt Park was and still is a Puerto Rican stronghold in Chicago. You actually have to drive under a giant steel Puerto Rican Flag to enter or leave the neighborhood. It wasn’t always Puerto Rican. It was originally Polish but when the Puerto Ricans starting moving in, the Polish realized their perogis tasted just as good up north so they moved out and bought every two flat they could find by Milwaukee and Lawrence Avenues.

Chicago is very segregated. Everybody has their own neighborhood with it’s own rules. Pretend they don’t exist and it’s not up to you what the consequences are going to be. But I was Puerto Rican but not Puerto Rican, black but not black, white but not white. I lived in a racial purgatory.

But in our house, nobody cared whether you were black, white or Puerto Rican. There were bigger problems to worry about with more daunting problems arriving daily. The problems had problems that had issues. And most of the time, you never saw the problems coming.

One summer morning I was sitting on the front porch when Bebe sat down next to me, her thick hair pulled into a side ponytail held together by a black rubber band with two small white marbles on it.

“You wanna juice,” she asked?

“Nah, I ain’t thirsty,” I replied.

“I ain’t asking you if you want a juice. I’m asking you if you want to juice.”

“I dunno what you’re talking about,” I sassed back.

“Come with me and I’ll show you,” she said and walked inside.

I followed Bebe upstairs to the crawl space next to her apartment. We walked in to see Dude and Tyrone already there waiting. The walls were dark orange with no windows. What little air was in the room always smelled like wet cardboard. The roof was slanted always making it feel like the ceiling was about to cave in.

Bebe walked to the middle of the room and Tyrone shut the door. Bebe pulled down her dirty white denim shorts and got on all fours. Tyrone walked up behind her, unzipped his jeans, knelt down behind her then thrust his hips forward. Bebe let out a moaning noise. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what they were doing. After a minute or two, Tyrone stood up and zipped his pants up then leaned against the door so nobody could come in or out. Dude dropped his pants and squatted behind his sister following his brother’s lead. Tyrone glanced over and nodded at me, an odd affirmation we were all in this together. That’s when I realized I was next. Dude turned his head and when our eyes met, we both started nervously giggling. Tyrone shushed us to be quiet or somebody’d come in and bust us. Dude pulled his pants up and scampered behind his big brother, still trying not to laugh.

“Your turn, Little Mickey.” Tyrone said.

Everything about this felt wrong but it also felt like there was no way of getting out of it. I walked behind Bebe, unzipped my shorts, pulled down my white and red Shazam Underoos and knelt behind her like I’d just seen Dude and Tyrone do. I pumped my hips back and forth until I felt the appropriate amount of time passed then stopped. Bebe looked over her shoulder and offered an innocent gentle smile. I gave her one back. We held each other’s gaze for a moment, both helpless, both just kids in the middle of something we had no idea how to get out. It arrived. It happened. I participated. I cannot undo. I cannot unsee.

I pulled up my shorts and she did the same. Tyrone and Dude headed out leaving Bebe and I walking down the stairs in silence until she confided her aunt bought her a pack of Hubba Bubba gum and she had two pieces left. Did I want one?

Juicing became a big part of our life. We juiced when we were bored, excited, sad or whenever we thought of it. Sometimes it’d be all four of us; sometimes it’d be just Bebe and me. The first time it was just she and I, Bebe explained how I’d been doing it wrong, that I had to actually be inside her for it to work. She didn’t want to say anything before and embarrass me in front of her brothers.

I thought this was normal behavior. I thought this is what every kid does. I thought every kid had secrets.

I was six.

217644_175292542520696_2182055_n

1981 – me at the height of my blackness.

Things weren’t any calmer down in our apartment with the rogue cast of characters wandering around. Ninette, my Dad’s older sister, had long thin black hair, olive skin and the gaunt sunken cheekbones of a junkie. Nancy, my father’s youngest sister, was on the straight and narrow. Nancy carried a few extra pounds along with the fierce determination to get out of the neighborhood. She was studying to be a nurse and no matter what insanity went on inside the house, she went to school and did her homework. Ninette was just as enthusiastic about heroin.

My father’s mother, who I called Grandma, was an off the boat Irish woman who waddled around all day in polyester slacks and stretchy tops guzzling Schlitz malt liquor like a Longshoreman on disability. She was always insanely drunk operating in one of two modes: crooning or complaining. If she wasn’t singing an obscure big band tune she was complaining about the world and what needed for people to finally get their act together. I always wondered how she knew about the world because I never saw her leave the house. Not once. The only thing she watched on TV was The Lawrence Welk Show. While it was on, she’d gracefully prance around the living room, eyes closed, dancing with an imaginary prince, lost in the music and the fantasy. If that’s where she went when she was drunk, no wonder she never drew a sober breathe.

My Grandfather barely spoke English and my Grandma didn’t speak Puerto Rican ye they had three kids together. That is what happens when the power of alcohol meets the power of a Puerto Rican penis.

We were always on tilt. There was never any money. Jobs came and went like the weather and violence was just a wrong word or sideways glance away.

Nintette had a hankering for heroin and men who beat her. One Saturday, late in the afternoon, we were all hanging out in the living room; me, Dad, Ninette and her monthly piece of garbage, a pudgy Hispanic guy whose greatest accomplishment was his goatee, which he stroked with great respect and passion.

While he was stroking his goatee, Ninette made a comment that it looked like he was jerking off a dick on his face. Even at six I thought this was funny. The guy did not.

“Shut the fuck up, bitch,” he yelled.

“Don’t talk to my sister like that,” my father shouted back.

“Fuck you,” Ninette hissed at my Dad, “and fuck you too,” she screamed at her boyfriend.

In a flash, without a warning, he slapped her.

My father leapt off the sofa and got in his face.

“Don’t ever put hands on my sister!”

I watched Ninette’s boyfriend offer up a smile. A smile I would see a few times through out my life. It is the evil smile a coward always offers before trying to hurt you.

“What’s the matter faggot? Afraid a getting your ass beat in front of your kid,” he cackled.

“Let’s take it outside,” my father said as he charged out the front door.

Ninette tried to hold the gangbanger back.

“Get off me, bitch. I’ma beat his ass then I’ma beat yours then you gonna suck my dick.”

He shucked her off and bolted out after my father.

Ninette ran after him, slamming the door behind her.

I stood frozen in place, staring at the door. Five minutes later my father walked back inside alone. His hands were covered in blood, long strands of black hair wedged under bloody fingernails.

My father sat down on the sofa, his eyes darting from the floor to the door then back down at the floor again. He finally looked up at me.

“You ever see a man hitting a woman, you better do something about it or you’re just as bad as the guy hitting the woman. Understand?”

“Okay. What if that guy comes back?”

“If he comes back I’ll kill him.” My Dad heaved himself off the sofa and went to the bathroom to wash the blood from his hands.

I was scared. I didn’t want my Dad to have to kill somebody but murder was an option he just put on the table. Don’t get me wrong; my father wasn’t a bully or some guy presenting a hard ass to the world. He was just a good who stood up when he had to. One time somebody kicked in the basement window in the middle of the night trying to rob the place. My father grabbed the yellow wiffle ball bat and ran downstairs after the guy. The guy had a .38 and dropped it, scarred of the lunatic with the balls to come after an armed home invader with a wiffle ball bat. He did what he had to do – right or wrong.

I wondered if I would ever have to kill somebody? What if the guy that hit Ninette came back and I was there. Would I have to help kill him? The concept of murder was one of the many myths of manhood that almost killed me. The idea that somebody might have to die and I might be the person to make that call.

Did I have it in me? Why? Why not?

I couldn’t tell my dad how scared I was. Scared for him. Scared for me. Scared for Ninette. Even scared for the gangbanger. I didn’t want to see anybody die. I wanted to tell him but I didn’t know how to express my feelings and there was nobody around to teach me. I later discovered why.

In Chicago (maybe where you live too) you quickly learn there is a price to pay people knowing how you’re feeling. Feeling too happy and you hear something like “What are you so happy about?” On the flip side, if you’re feeling sad you’ll hear something like, “What do you got to be so sad about? Keep it up and I’ll give you something to really to be sad about.” So you learn to keep your feelings to yourself because feelings are a serious liability.

It’s not that my family didn’t care how I felt; they just didn’t know what to do with the information. As a matter of fact, there was no more room for it. Anything else was too much to bear, one more unwelcomed added burden, one more thing stacked on an already fragile barely tolerable existence that was nothing more than a fight day in and day out for the bare essentials like food, clothes and avoiding eviction. There is no room for anything else, especially feelings that run the risk of shining an even harsher light on a situation where everything is fucked unless you pretend otherwise. My father was the only one who worked. He was the only that paid the bills. He worked shit jobs for shit wages. The last thing he needed was my problems too. I wanted to tell him about what was going on with Bebe but knew it would be too much. You know how I know? One time Bebe’s Dad walked in on us; me, Dude and Bebe juicing. He ripped off his belt and whupped the three of us. Then he never mentioned it again. He had his own problems. It was up to us to deal with ours.

So you realize you cannot say you are afraid, cannot say you’re happy, sad or fill in the blank.

So when people ask how you’re doing, you learn the only correct answer is…

I’m fine.

 

***********************************************************************

So there you have it. The beginning of my memoir. It is near first draft stage. There is still much to be done. Please feel free to comment below. If you like what you are reading, please share it in your social media circles or with friends and family to help get the word out.

Thanks for coming along on this ride!

Mick

PS – Copyright 2015

 

 

 

 

 


10 Comments






Page 1 of 512345