Sports & Music: Why They Are Vital To Me
I hear a lot of people scoff smugly that “sports are nothing but entertainment” and “why do you care so much, you’re not on the team?” And with regards to music, some people are aghast that I am enamored with everything about the art and the industry from the business standpoint. Okay, I respect their sentiments, but you have to understand what they have meant to me during my life. I can understand the thought that “sports is a business; it’s rigged, why care — you look foolish getting caught up in it”. Now, do I agree with it? No. And it can get you cut out of my life entirely with no further discussion or explanation. They are not only my life’s passions and always have been — but they have been therapy for me during the rocky periods of my life.
Let me explain.
Throughout my high school years, I suffered with Erythrodermic Psoriasis (Google it — not getting into it in this blog, as I’ve written about it many times in the past). And given how high school students are, I was subject to harsh, endless ridicule day in and day out for all four years; solely because the condition made me look “different”. People who knew me — some of them allegedly friends, turned on me and joined in with the crowd who didn’t know me and were mocking me the loudest. Others didn’t know what the situation was and just stared. Only a couple of my real friends before the condition set in remained friends throughout.
Nevertheless, the result was being ostracized. Coupled with my stated desire to not go to that school nor be DOWN THERE — I was down in the dumps when I should have had a fair shot to enjoy high school and all that came with it. I am gifted musically (rusty now, because I was forced to give it all up due to the curriculum forced upon me at Smith — truly wish I had been allowed to just go to high school here in New York like I wanted; at Julliard, LaGuardia, Talent Unlimited… SOMETHING other than being there) and have always loved music. My parents love music, my grandmothers loved music. My maternal grandmother had 4 or 5 radios blasting the latest tunes in throughout the 80s and 90s the entire time I was growing up. And she also sang quite eloquently. Having all that music playing at all times cultivated my innate love for music. It was only natural to pick up instruments immediately once I became coordinated enough to operate any of them.
My sister and I had keyboards, radios, cassette players, CD players, both learned how to read sheet music by 3rd grade and between us can play almost every instrument that you would hear in a band. I play almost a dozen instruments within percussion, keys and strings and she plays even more. My first love was drums. Ironically, it wasn’t even a guy who spurred that interest — unlike with sports where all my “idols” were obviously men. It was SHEILA E. who inspired me to play drums. See, you have to understand the period of time that I grew up. This was fresh off the heels of the movie Krush Groove and being a huge Prince fan, Sheila worked with Prince (still to this day) off and on during the 80s. She’s the best female percussionist ever and one of the best PERIOD.
I had learned the basics of three guitars before I finished elementary school. I didn’t take it seriously, because at the time I didn’t know what I know now — and that’s how much people LOVE guitar playing. I wish I had stuck with it. But I have the basics; I just need to get back to it once I find the free time. I also learned how to play piano during elementary school as well. Coupled with sheet music, that is a pretty good ability to acquire in life. I was just not nurtured outside the home (my parents and relatives always encouraged my sister and myself). Even once I got to junior high, I played in the band all three years. I loved it. There was a camaraderie that came from playing in a band that you couldn’t get anyplace else except being on a sports team. Naturally, I gravitated to almost every sport imaginable concurrently with the music. Life was great.
Then I get to high school. My parents bought a house that same year and suddenly upon moving there, the condition sprang forth. I went to doctors everywhere and they had no conclusive diagnosis. I used almost every skin cream available on the market, and popped dozens of different pills. Nothing worked. FOR SIX YEARS. My guidance counselor forced me to make a decision between continuing band or going into “Tech Prep”. Tech Prep was the new thing in the mid 90s, because we were on the cusp of the internet age and technology was about to blow up. Plus, my mother had embedded in my brain that I was going to be an engineer from my earliest memory (despite the fact I realized by 7th grade I HATED math and the heavy emphasis upon it that I later realized would come with being any sort of engineer).
I “chose” Tech Prep for that reason alone. But I felt torn and empty. Again, adding in the fact I was not where I wanted to be and at a school full of people that I, for lack of a better word — HATED. I regret it to this day. It’s taken me half my life to revisit my core passions. A lot of people mistake it for “living in the past”, but I am rediscovering myself. I had lost myself in getting caught up in curriculum, “life progression” (graduate high school, go to college, get 2 or 3 degrees, get a job, buy a house, buy a car, get life insurance, get married, start a family, move to Alpine, blah blah blah) and FORCED by my teachers in high school at that — so much so that I really didn’t come to the realization of how far away from my dreams and passions I had deviated in over a decade’s time. So when you hear me wax nostalgic, that is the reason why — not “longing for the halcyon days”. I’m only now getting back in line with those things in the past two years. They bring me solace in an otherwise train-wreck of a life since I hit my late 20s and early 30s. I am sure I’d be at the institution out in Creedmoor by now if I didn’t have these things.
When I was in junior high, I was the sports reporter for my 7th grade class. I had Mr. Don Ray for Social Studies. He’d always ask us to report on current events in various fields. This other kid would always fight with me to report about sports. But I demanded to do sports or I wouldn’t report at all. That’s not to say that I didn’t care about anything else, because everyone who knows me knows I was practically BORN with a newspaper in my hands (I have a picture that was taken of me when I was about 4 or 5 years old reading the Henderson Daily Dispatch — no joke). I can talk about anything. I’m not obsessed with sports; people who are generally don’t know nor care about anything else. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be your up-to-the-minute reporter for Dancing With The Stars (I have a firm wrist).
Anyway, I digress. That was the beginning for me. Actually, in 6th grade, myself and one of the few people who has known me for over 20 years, Antonio Townsend — who is very much like me when it comes to sports — began to keep our own running sports ledgers. People came to us for sports information, because while ESPN was already getting pretty big, they weren’t able to report everything as they do now with all their networks and “Bottom Line” coverage on the crawl. We loved it. We’d keep NFL stats, scores, bettor’s guides, predictions, MLB stats, standings, etc. and the same for the NBA. I kept mine in several 3″ binders; of which I had over a dozen at one point. I began doing that in 1990, not realizing how I could have turned that into a lucrative venture before the internet popped off. If I only knew…
But I immersed myself in that stuff. I loved it. Yes, I went out and shot ball, played baseball, football, bowled (had a 180 average before I even got to high school — still 204 to this day if you “waaan tess”). But my love of INFORMATION is what got me into doing that. I scoured the newspapers nationally, magazines (back when Sports Illustrated was 100 times better than it is now and worth reading start to finish). I relish those antiques. I still have one or two of them left that weren’t damaged in all the moving I have done in my life between NC and NY/NJ. I can remember countless hours spent writing that stuff by hand. We didn’t have laptops, fancy printers, THE INTERNET or any of that. It was all done by hand — FOR THE LOVE.
I continued it in high school, but my teachers hated it. I would sit in the back of the class — still make A’s and B’s in between bouts in the hospital, doctor’s offices and battling severe pain and fatigue (symptoms of the Erythro). That’s when you know 1) someone LOVES what they do and 2) how ridiculous that school is that I didn’t have to pay attention and was in all Honors classes making A’s and B’s and DIDN’T LEARN A THING the entire four years. Biggest waste of time of my entire life. Again, I wish it were in my hands where I went to high school. But nevertheless…
I even began running track after 9th grade. One of our football coaches spotted me imitating Barry Sanders (no joke — I have a few friends who will attest that I was if not the fastest, in the TOP 3 fastest guys in the school) while playing flag football with some of the guys on the team. I was running right past guys. He demanded I come out for track. So I did. I finally had a place of belonging (I had been discouraged from playing football by my mother for health reasons that I’ve had since infancy). Then the symptoms when into overdrive. I could barely get through a day of school, much less practice and go to meets. But I wanted to be around the team. I didn’t have any true friends and that was the closest thing that I had to cling to. My father would not allow me to go on meets if I didn’t practice and train — never fully did he realize how intense and unrelenting the pain was that I had every second of every day at the time. I had to gut it out just to make it to school, much less do all the grueling things one must to in order to be good in track and field. For years, I do not think he ever knew, and I harbored a great deal of resentment toward him for preventing me from being with the team.
That drove me totally away from everyone and that’s when I kicked into sports and music completely. EVERYTHING was about sports to me. I didn’t miss games, newscasts, specialty shows (Baseball Tonight, NFL Live, NFL Primetime, etc.) and I recorded everything in print or online (internet had just become widely available around 1995). I could relate everything in my life to what was happening in sports and music at the time. It was cathartic to me. I battled depression because I was ostracized, but sports and music mitigated the damage done.
As soon as I finished high school, my aunt, who came to my graduation asked me when I was coming to Jersey. I said ASAP. I was on the first thing smoking. Finally, I’m where I belong again and things were much better — even though the Erythro hadn’t cleared up one bit. Amazing how much that change helped my psyche.
I made friends easily in there, because we were all freshmen, trying to feel our way around the college life and Long Island was a good social school. Lots of parties and gatherings almost nightly. One of my friends from way back then is still on here, Kelvin Braswell. I had found my old roommate from back then also, but he went back to Spain. He (thankfully) was into sports, because I swear I watched 8 episodes of SportsCenter (back when Stuart Scott and Kenny Mayne — or Rich Eisen — would be on there and Stuart was still tolerable) per day ha. A few of the other heads I’ve run into over the years. I haven’t seen or heard from Richie Parker, also a Harlem dude — since then. I wonder sometimes what happened with that cat, and what WOULD have happened if he hadn’t gotten caught up in that situation right before he graduated from Manhattan Center (where his teammates were none other than Cam’ron and Ma$e on the basketball team). Those were good times at LIU, although I swear none of us actually graduated FROM THERE ha.
Sports and music were my fallback whenever things weren’t going well then. Even when things were going well, I always had them in my backdrop. They are my life. It’s therapy and cathartic for me. Once the skin condition cleared up a week after my birthday in 1999 (almost at the same time I bought my first car, which is funny to me to this day), I was no longer scarred over the ordeal. I was back to being who I was growing up: beaming, great to be around, wild sense of humor, could make anyone laugh and never dull. Life was good. I had a job that I had NO BUSINESS getting, all thanks to the Lord — and had made strides in my early 20s. I had bought the car of my dreams at age 24 and was doing very well financially. Once we began work on our non-profit organization, Solid Rock Collegiate Outreach, Inc., however, things began to swing back in the other direction.
I have always been a workaholic. At one point, for a year and a half, I worked full time, sometimes 50 hours a week, was serving over a ministry, working the non-profit AND going to school full-time — AT THE SAME TIME. I was never weary, because I was doing what I loved. But things just never got going funding-wise and bit by bit, things began to fall apart. By early 2006, after having left my full-time job the August prior, I was running low on savings. The fact that I had that much money to begin with shows you how good life was. I was fully serving the Lord and everything — had committed to a Vow of Purity and was striving hard to do everything the right way. But again, bit by bit, things began to fail. I admittedly began to doubt why I was even TRYING to live a holy life back then. What good was it doing me? Why take a Vow of Purity if the woman you’re going to marry will have probably been with 20 guys and knocked up once or twice? Why is your purity going to matter to her? Why go to church every week, when, as a minister and having two parents deeply involved as ministers themselves — you see how church REALLY OPERATES when you’re not in a “service”? And then to have all these things collapsing around me (lack of funding for the NPO, my GPA dropped .75 of a point over a year’s time due to the stress, I had to sell everything just to pay tuition every semester) only made the doubts even more intense.
I had nothing but negative breaks at UNCG. I severely strained a muscle in my neck during my 3rd year there, which rendered me a stiff-neck for 2 solid months. It had gotten to the point where I had been told by my doctor that I might need surgery (as we speak, that injury has flared up again recently, and while no stiff neck, I have a cervical disk impingement which is causing me great pain). As soon as the healing took place from that, I BROKE MY BACK. SPINAL. I was sedentary for a YEAR. Had surgery and immediately ballooned to 210 lbs (from 185). During all this time, I was tirelessly applying for jobs. Nothing. I had lost everything so swiftly that I didn’t know what to do. I no longer had my 350Z, I no longer had a job, the NPO had to be put on the back burner, I stepped away from ministry (and have only been to church 8 times in the past 3 years), the chick I was dating at the time did a 180 on me, cheated and ran off and married the guy, using every excuse in the book to justify her actions — I was flummoxed about everything.
Meanwhile, I’m still holding down 18 credit hours per semester. To this day I don’t know how I didn’t crack. I haven’t had a full-time job for FIVE YEARS — since I left Aetna in August 2005. I got by on refund checks, family helping here and there, the few friends I had down south who were genuine and understanding and that’s it. Not even the church I went to down there was helpful. For shame. But that reminds me of a few churches that I know of in Harlem that put on the act IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HOOD AND AIN’T HELPING NOBODY RIGHT THERE IN THE “DANGER ZONE” — and for those of you who know one of the churches I’m talking about, I need not name them.
To this day, I’m still trying to figure out how someone who came about obtaining the amount of experience that I had by age 25, WITHOUT A DEGREE at the time, then obtains the degree, works on a Masters, has two professional licenses and aiming for 4 more (financial services) is not in position to get a job. I die every day that I do not work. I LONG AND THIRST to work. And I’m around people everywhere I go who are ungrateful, take their jobs for granted, complain incessantly, and have the nerve to have a sense of entitlement that they’re “SUPPOSED” to have a particular job. God forbid they have to go through a fraction of what I’ve been through over the past 5 years, they might dress up like Santa Claus and pull an Old Man Pardo (look it up, from Christmas 2008 in California — old man Pardo had lost it). But here I am, still standing. Somehow.
However, this past few months have been utterly humiliating beyond anything I had endured from 2006-2009. Now I’m at my breaking point. I have been on the verge of truly snapping and losing it. I’ve had near-breakdowns lately (another tonight while in class) and it is killing me that I cannot work, cannot support myself like I have been accustomed to and cannot provide for anyone else. Never mind a relationship, which is where I am in life — I’m worthless to any woman right now. I hate Mike Wright, I don’t like Mike Wright, I mostly wish the worst for Mike Wright. That’s probably why I hate most of my friends and my fans on here. They tell me “oh, it’ll be all good soon!” when I’ve heard that from someone almost every single one of the past 1900 days. Think about how that would grate your nerves, coupled with depression, the rejection from applying for 40,000 jobs in that time and only coming up with SLOP and BULLSHIT sales jobs as a result — several failed attempts at relationships; being vulnerable and completely honest in them and having it dismissed as rubbish by women who claimed they wanted a good man. You have people who’ve been out of work for 6 months ready to take a swan dive off the George. Hey, go right ahead. I’m no quitter. But I will admit, I have no problem exposing myself here, and risking having someone (try) to use this against me later. I don’t care. Honesty works for me. Transparency helps me remain lucid. It’s my page, I put “MY BUSINESS” out there at my discretion. And I hope that it helps someone.
So yes, I immerse myself into sports and music. And you’ve probably noticed I’ve been “OHHH DEEE” with it lately. That’s why. It is my salve. It is my sanctuary away from everything else in my life, which is topsy turvy at BEST. I want to be a good husband and loving father, but I’m worthless in both regards right now. And I’m not a really good friend, either, because I can’t even join my friends for drinks at Nevada Smith’s or Library, or go to games at the Garden or Giants Stadium. I can’t do much of anything right now and it sucks. I don’t think (outside of a couple of them) they even understand how profound this shit is — and some have written me off because I don’t come to their $50 and up events twice a week. But feel my pain here. This writing is the best thing I can do in order to show you how much pain I deal with. You laugh at me when I say I want to kick someone in the head and stomp on their testicles so you can feel the pain I have waking up every day. That’s REAL. I wake up with the ONLY headache half of the time, barely able to get out of bed and motivate myself to deal with the humiliation of being in this program — which is a complete and utter waste of time in the highest regard — and I’m battling depression with the lack of interest in many of the things I’ve always loved doing, along with the energy to do them.
I had two grandparents pass away last year within two months of one another. And my paternal grandmother passed in 2007. I was close with all of them, but especially so with the last one who passed away — my maternal grandmother. It rocked me to my core and I don’t think I ever truly dealt with it. She saw me off for school when I began Kindergarten and helped raise us and half of the children who grew up on her side of town when I was little. There’s a void there. And given that she is one of the people who believed in me most (it killed me that she couldn’t make my graduation from UNCG nor live to see me get married — but I can say that I always made her and all my grandparents proud, which is all I cared about).
To this day I play all the songs I grew up listening to when I was around her. That music, and the memories that I have of sports back then are all I can cling to in these times. I have friends, but I can barely reach any of them when I need someone to talk to or be with. It seems like the more committed you are to settling down, the more the scenario evades you. The more you try to avoid being promiscuous (which I am NOT), the more the temptation seeks you out while trying to preserve what little dignity you have left in the hopes of finally meeting someone decent for once. But something has to change VERY SOON. I am on the side of the cliff right now.
Never let me hear anyone scoff at the importance of sports and music. You have no idea how they’ve saved me. I’m sure someone else can relate out there.