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Of Johnsons and Joneses

Of Johnsons and Joneses


Young black Muslim with brown eyes that the girls would die for. And the boys would die for too. A Farrakhan foot soldier. And one sister says he's got a package big enough for the whole neighborhood. Had it like that. And he knew it. She smiled a little smile. Cracked a grin like she's been there, to Mecca, and raises her glass to his memory. His package, it seems, was the only thing on his rail-thin caramel-brown body that didn't shrink. Even after his brown eyes dimmed. After the words coming from his mouth didn't make sense anymore. 'What again, brother? Yeah, you just asked that before. Remember?' But I loved you like no brother could. And I knew that those words would be your last. And maybe I'll sputter the same when it's my turn. So ask the question again. I'm listening. There was the promising culinary artist who'd burned his way to the top at some of the Midwest's best restaurants before he ended up on crack. Then it all went up in smoke. But he didn't care, 'cause the jones felt too good. Besides, after his severance and unemployment ran out, there was always public assistance and disability. And where he lived, known as cOak Park, crack flowed lovely. He woke up to a 40-ounce of malt liquor. And watched Jenny Jones. He ain't like Jerry Springer but loved him some Jack. And before noon he took it the hard way--shots in a Tupperware cup that never moved from a dingy bedside. And in the evening--that's when they 'beamed up.' At the kitchen stove. The pipe stayed hot. Blazed. They all showed up like they were coming to dinner. And each night, different faces. They would pool their meager resources--beg, borrow, or steal--to get those rocks. Those almighty rocks. And he never forgot about me. He'd always make his famous chili or frankfurters with grilled onions and a vegetable. Or whatever else he'd snatched up from the local food pantry. The food was always prepared before they came. Always presented with a garnish. He never ate, himself. The bald, muscular brother'who always boasted about his twin sons away at college'just withered away. Bless the dead. (God knows I miss them.) And then there's my man: a Motown brown. Tall and regal but wearing thin. Ex'flight attendant who, since losing his job and recently both of his parents, says he's better off dead. Got a job at a local department store that doesn't cover the bills or the child support payments. He can't get disability. And won't stay on the meds. Recently, he spent an entire day at work hunched over the toilet and vomiting. 'And when they need you in the stockroom, what are you supposed to tell them?' he asked me. 'When all you can do is throw up. Because I need this job. I need this job.' The job is the only thing holding his fragile existence together. If he could just get onto disability and get his head right, he could find a higher-paying job and make things better. But for now he's still looking for his rainbow. His 'happily ever after.' The puppy that he bought to make him happy--keep him company--is getting bigger now but is still not housebroken. He keeps it in its cage. Once an object of his affection, it is now contemptuous. And then there's my story. And hers. And his soon to come. Keep rockin'. Ain't no stoppin'. Keep rockin'. Ain't no stop. It keeps comin'. And it don't quit. True stories one and all. And it don't quit. Whitfield is one of the nation's leading journalists reporting on AIDS among African-Americans. A frequent Vibe contributor, he is based in New York City. Write to Whitfield at

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LeRoy Whitfield