Thursday, March 12, 2015

How to Save a Life

From the upcoming book "The Plain Ugly Truth" by Toriano Porter

I can still hear the voice in my head to this day.
“TP, don’t do it,” my good friend said. “C’mon let’s go.”
The year was 1992, maybe ’93. Had to be ’93.
In fact, it was the summer of ’93.
St. Louis City was not a very peaceful  place that summer. The murder rate was at an all-time high and youth from different parts of the metro were knee-deep into the trade of the time: the sale of crack cocaine.
I dabbled briefly in the trade. And I mean briefly.
A good friend from college had driven South City-bound from his perch in north St. Louis County to sell me $100 worth of crack for a mere fifty bucks.
I had plans that day to hang with my best friend from high school, Ricky Simms.
Pretty Ricky and I were inseparable from sophomore year of high school until we both left for our respective institutes of higher learning.
I was home that summer from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, and Rick was back in St. Louis from Springfield, Mo., where he attended Southwest Missouri State.
It was early June, and my college homeboy had promised me he would sell me a ‘double up’ so I could earn a few dollars while home for break.
The climate of the city was the drug, gang, and crime trade. My neighborhood, the 3400 block of Park Avenue, was one of the Southside’s biggest drug markets at the time. I figured I could shake the block for a couple of days and come up with some quick cash.
I would then get back with my college buddy to spend $100 with him for one sixteenth of an ounce of hard rock cocaine.
From what he told me, the sixteenth could be separated equally into multiple pieces of crack rock valued at $20 each.
First, I had to sale the double up I had in my possession.
My college buddy gave me five pieces of already cooked and cut crack. At $20 a whop, I was sure to make that $100 I needed for the sixteenth.
Once I got the sixteenth I had visions to ball out of control like my older brother and the rest of his crew on Park Avenue. I needed a car, some clothes, and that college scholarship I had to play ball at CMSU was a thing of the past; squandered in less than a year.
The first two pieces of crack, I was ganked for by a relative. Ganked, as in swindled. Strong-armed. Outfoxed, perhaps.
The second two pieces I almost sold to S.C.A.T., and the last piece I flubbed trying to stash the dope.
S.C.A.T., by the way, was an acronym for the St. Louis Police Department’s Street Corner Apprehension Team.
Between S.C.A.T. and Mobile Reserve you did not want to run into officers from the STLPD on the street corner. If you did dirt, S.C.A.T. or Mobile Reserve had intelligence on you, and like it or not, they would collar you by any means necessary.
I was stationed a half block from my grandmother’s home on Park Avenue when a younger relative approached me with a demand.
Draped in khaki shorts, a thick, long white tee and a pair of blue low-top Chuck Taylor Converse to match the fitted pro model ballcap I wore, I listened in on the setup.
“Hey man, it’s a white boy around the corner that wants two,” he said to me. “Give me the work and I will go slang that for you.”
Keep in mind this was my first foray into the crack game. Although I came from a long line of crack dealers – my mother, father, older brother and best friend all sold crack at one time or another in the late 1980s, early 90s – I steered clear of illegal activities.
After the lost scholarship, I started down a path of self-destruction.
That destructive path led me a short distance away from my Granny’s house; on Park Avenue and Theresa Street with my 19-year-old cousin amid a drug transaction.
“OK, here,” I said. I had no clue that I would not see the cousin again for at least another year. “Bring me my forty bucks right back, man.”
Shortly after the cousin disappeared, two young, college-aged looking white guys approached me with a request for crack cocaine.
Rick had already happened upon the scene and was ready to hang out.
Rick grew up on Sullivan Street in north St. Louis. In the late 1980s, early 90s, that section of Sullivan became known as a ruthless area appropriately referred to as “Beam Street.”
The named was derived from two sources. The hoodfellas and their allegiance to the California Blood gangs that had infiltrated St. Louis culture, and the amount of crack rock sold on the street – hence the phrase, ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’
Beam Street.
Ricky survived the madness of those circumstances much as I did. We found refuge in athletics and education, and formed a friendship back in our days at Eureka High.
He excelled in track. He had a choice to play football at CMSU at his expense, or take a partial scholarship to SMSU to run track. We often talked of the same college, but a partial ride beat out the no-ride-at-all option.
We departed on separate journeys in life after high school, but that day Rick cemented his place in my personal history books.
“TP, don’t do it,” he said. “Let’s go. Lets Go!”
He continued as I approached the vehicle he rode in with a high school sweetheart: “That’s S.C.A.T., dawg, you’re tripping.”
I left the undercovers in their wake for a brief second. I did not want to go to jail.
“For real?” I said to Rick with utter stupidity. “They ain’t no damn S.C.A.T.”
“Dawg, that’s S.C.A.T.,” he said again. “You’re tripping.”
After a fake ‘give me a second’ gesture to the buyers, I made a beeline to the girl’s father’s minivan and climbed in the back seat. I turned to see the young white guys' reaction as I fled the scene. They turned away and walked toward Vista Street, one block to the north.
They must have had bigger fish to fry that day, or I was one lucky son of a gun. I credit my friend Rick for that in a sense. If he hadn’t been there that day, I probably would have sold crack to the undercover police.
Instead, I discarded the pieces I had left into the street, charged to the game the forty bucks my cousin stiffed me for, and thanked Rick.
Had the sale transpired, I would have more than likely ended up in the system; just another young kid from the hood caught up in the hustle.
I don’t know what my friend went through when he went through what he went through, but please know I will always treasure and love him. I miss him dearly.

Rest gently in peace, Ricky Simms, Jr.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Pride of St. Louis

THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS

from the book The Pride of Park Avenue” by Toriano Porter

When I first saw the 2005 schedule for the St. Louis Bulldogs, the semipro football team I’ve been a member of since 1999, I was stoked. After last season’s horrifying playoff lost to the Springfield Rifles (the game was called with eight minutes to go in the 4th quarter with the Rifles ahead 40 something to 8; a bench clearing brawl prompted the cancellation) I swore I was done playing football.

After all, the prospects of receiving a professional tryout from the various pay for play leagues around the country were becoming dimmer as time passed.

The schedule, which I went online to peruse back in April, featured games against teams in Memphis, Chicago, Kansas City, Lincoln, Nebraska and the city that pique my interest the most, Dallas, Texas.

I’d had fond memories of Dallas. On top of those memories, an ex college roommate from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Marcus Carliss, had relocated to Dallas and I hadn’t seen him in a few years. I had gotten his number from a mutual friend in Kansas City, touching basis with him every so often to talk about life situations and old memories living in Warrensburg, Missouri, home of the Central Missouri State Fighting Mules.

“What’s up dirrty?” I spoke into the cell phone, referring to Marcus. “What’s cracking wit’cha’?”

“TeePee,” Marcus responded with vigor, “what’s up homie, what’s going on?”
“Aw man, nothing,” I prolonged, “jus’ callin’ to let you know I’ma be in yo’ town June 11th.”

“Oh word,” Marcus said, “for what? You still ballin’?”

“Yes sir,” I proudly replied, “still looking to get that ring, dirrty.”

Marcus just laughed. He knew that the crew of brothers we linked up with as CMSU footballers always wanted some sort of championship ring to take with us to our football graves. We never got one at CMSU. Marcus, however, did.

After transferring from CMSU in the fall of 1995, he was part of a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national football championship at Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

The luck of the draw is what we called it.

“T.P., man you crazy,” he said. “How old are you now?”

“Thirrty one, dirrty, but I tell errybody I’m thirrty for life,” I responded with a country grammar slur.

“There you go putting them extra r’s in everything,” Marcus chided, “sounding like an outtake from a Nelly video.”

Marcus and I had a history of making fun of each other’s dialect.

He was born and raised in Los Angeles, moved to Tulsa as a teenager and relocated to his present digs in Dallas.

 “What I tell you ‘bout how we live up herre dirrty?” I joined the verbal confl ict. “Ain’t nuthin’ country ‘bout my city, cuzz. We gangsta gutta up herre.”

“Whatever,” Marcus continued the jostling, “ya’ll still ain’t LA. You want to talk about gangsta? Now, LA is gangsta.”

 “LA?” I countered, “LA? Man, you ain’t lived in Cali in umpteen years. What’chu talkin’ ‘bout LA?”

“That’s alright though,” Marcus stood firm, “LA’s in my heart. In my blood. I’m always LA.”

“Dude, you are from Tulsa, Oklahoma,” I teased.

“It’s all good, though, T.P.,” Marcus said in fun, “where ya’ll playing at and at what time?”

“Man, I’ on know yet,” I explained, “but when I find out, I’ma call you and give you the heads up.”

“Alright,” Marcus said, “Cool. Just hit me up and let me know the deal.”

“No doubt,” I said.

“Alright, peace,” he concluded.

“One luv,” I wrapped up. “Holla at’chu ina minute.”

**********
The trip to Texas to take on the Dallas Diesel in a semipro football game had all the makings of a bonding outing for the St. Louis Bulldogs.

St. Louis’ winningest minor league football team ever had struggled with their early preseason games in 2005, losing the first three to opponents deemed very mediocre by Bulldog standards.

The team was in the midst of a rebuilding process, having lost key members from the previous year’s 8-4 club, including the star quarterback, running back, and wide receiver.

The dwindling out of players and coaches caused a ripple effect for St. Louis, leaving them in a rebuilding stage and struggling to stay competitive in a fledging semipro league.

Feeling a lack of cohesion on the part of the 2005 squad, Bulldog coach Greg Moore reserved a charter bus for the 12-hour ride to Dallas. The plan was to meet Friday, June 10 at 11:00 PM in the North Oaks Shopping Plaza, a local strip mall with retail stores and a bowling alley, and leave for the trip at midnight.

St. Louis would then arrive to its’ destination by noon Saturday and have a few hours to eat a pre-game meal and maybe watch a movie at a local theater in Dallas. In typical St. Louis fashion, most of the team’s players didn’t arrive until well after midnight and Moore was peeved.

“Listen up guys,” Moore ordered as players milled around the parking lot for a team meeting prior to boarding. The chief of Northwoods’ (MO) police department, Moore was used to giving orders.

What ticked him off were guys not following the procedure he’d laid out for them.

“Some of you don’t know what it means to be a St. Louis Bulldog,” continued Moore, the Bulldogs’ veteran coach of thirteen years and minor league football hall of fame member.

Moore, all of five feet, six inches of him, was appalled. The three losses, even though preseason games, weighed heavily on him. He had scheduled the game against the Diesel thinking he’d have a squad that would compete for a national championship. Never did he imagine he’d have to go to Dallas with practically a rebuilt offense and minus several key defensive reserve players.

He let the team know his feelings.

“We’re going down here to play one of the better teams in our league,” Moore scolded, “and we’ve only got thirty something guys here.”

“Thirty one, Chief,” tight end and captain Wendell Mosley informed.

“Thirty one,” Moore corrected.

“Chief,” Mosley chimed in again, “we ain’t got to sit here and wait on none of these cats.” Mosley, along with Moore, offensive tackle Stan Johnson and defensive end Fred Robinson, were the faces of the St. Louis Bulldogs.

They represented St. Louis at most of the NAFL’s league functions, including all-star games and award banquets.

Moore gave them a certain leeway others players couldn’t quite grasp. “Fuck ‘em,” Mosley continued. “Let’s go. One monkey don’t stop no show.”

“Yeah, Wendell, you’re right,” Moore agreed, “but I hate to go down there with thirty one players. We want to make an impression. We need all fifty of our guys--there’s power in numbers, boy.”

“Guys,” Moore said to his team, “get on the phone, call your buddies whose not here and tell ‘em to get here. We need bodies. We need numbers, baby. Tell ‘em if their having problems with the sixty dollar boarding fee, don’t worry about it, we’ll get it from later. Tell ‘em to just come on.”

At 1:40 AM, St. Louis headed for Dallas with just thirty-three players

                                                     **********
What’s up dirrty,” I said into Marcus’ cell phone the early evening of June 10. “You get my email?”

“Uhhh, um, I sure didn’t T.P.,” he unsurely replied. “I didn’t check my email today at work, homie.”

“Aw, it’s cool,” I pressed on, “I was jus letting you know we gon’ be leaving the Lou around midnight tonight and get to Dallas ‘round noon tomorrow.”

“Yeah? You know where ya’ll playing at yet?”

“Yeah. We, um, we um, gon’ be playing at Capel High, Cappell High, something, at seven o’clock.”

“Cappel?”

“Yeah, Cappel High, seven o’clock. I’ma call you when we touch
down in the D, aw’ight?”

“Cool. Just call me and let me know when ya’ll get here. I’ll be around.”

I was excited. I hadn’t seen Marcus in quite some time and I wanted to catch up on old times and maybe get a chance to meet his two-year daughter who I hadn’t met yet.

He was astonished with my answer when he asked me the age of my son, Toriano II.

“How old is Lil’ T, now?” he had asked.

“Twelve,” I proudly stated, flashing a wide grin through the phone only a father could muster.

 “Twelve!” Marcus deadpanned. “Damn, time is flying by. I know you got him playing ball?”

“Aw, man, football, basketball. I was going to let him play baseball dis’ summer, but he been actin’ a fool in school.”

“What?”

“Yeah, dirrty, actin’ a fool. Tellin’ the teacher things like, ‘so, you can’t tell me what to do.”

“You know what they say, right,” Marcus cajoled.

“What?”

“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”

**********
After a little over thirteen hours on the road, St. Louis arrived in the Dallas area around 2:30 on the afternoon of the 11th. The team had hotel rooms reserved at a Super 8 in Lewisburg, Texas but had stopped a few miles short of the destination to eat a light lunch before reporting to the high school stadium in Cappel.

The majority of coaches and players had slept through the night, including the two chartered bus drivers who took turns behind the wheel.

Not Moore, though.  He spent the trip trying to figure out a way to get his anemic offense to fire on all cylinders. Realizing the time was getting short, Moore informed his players to fend for lunch for themselves, but report back to the chartered bus in one hour.

Accordingly, players split up into familiar factions and dispersed into the humid and hazy Texas afternoon.

“One hour, or you won’t suit up tonight,” Moore barked to the fleeing crowd, “and I mean it danmitt

**********
I had slept through most of the nighttime part of the trip, even sleeping through a rest stop one of the two bus drivers we used made in the heart of Oklahoma. When I did finally open my eyes, I started recognizing parts of Oklahoma that I’d seen before.

As the procession moved forward, I spotted a green highway sign that read ‘Welcome to Tahlequah’.

I had visited Marcus there back in 1996 when he was playing ball at NSU and the sights of the town were forever engrained in my senses.

“Man, I knew dis’ shit was startin’ to look familiar,” I said to my teammate, Arthur Meredith, sitting in the aisle seat right next to my window seat.

“What’chu mean?” Art pondered.

“My homie used to play ball down herre at um, Northeastern State back in the mid-nineties,” I recalled. “Right herre in Tahlequah wherre we at.”

“For real?” Art asked, pretending to be interested in my speech.

“Yep, back in ‘96-97,” I explained. “Me and my homie Ping from Kansas City came down herre to check him out.”

“Where you know him from, dawg?” Art festered.

“Aw man, we went to Central Missouri together for a minute,” I detailed. “He transferred ‘cause the coach wouldn’t give him dat rock. He living in Dallas right na’. I’m finna call him and mess wit him, watch.”

Instead of calling Marcus at ten in the morning, I decided to send a text message to tease him about his three-year stay at NSU.

It read: ‘We just past a sign that says Northeastern State University. What you know about Tahlequah?’

The reply: ‘I’m a legend in Tahlequah, homeboy, what you know
about it?’

My reply: ‘I’m already knowing, dirrty, I’m already knowing.

                                              **********
Once St. Louis reached their temporary living quarters in Lewisburg, they were forced to get ready for the game at the hotel because of the impending schedule change, courtesy of the Dallas Diesel.

“They want to start the game at six thirty because they got a film crew to video tape the game,” Moore explained to his troops. “So, let’s get our stuff on in the rooms and be ready to be on the bus at four thirty.”

**********
“Marcus, what’s good homeboy?” I screamed into the hotel room’s phone. “I’m in yo’ area, cuzz.”

 “Word?” Marcus wondered, “Ya’ll just now getting here?”

“Yeah, man, that’s how the Bulldogs roll, baby,” I tried to convince.

“Check it. The game’s been moved up to six thirty, so get there on time so you can see yo’ boy get his issue off.”

“Alright, homie, I’ll see you at six thirty then.”

“Aw’ight, one.

**********
The game was a disaster for the Bulldogs.

Dallas came out smoking and after being held to a punt on their first offensive series, exploded for 18 points in the first quarter.

By halftime, the score was 31-0 and Moore was fuming.

“You mean to tell me, these guys are thirty one points better than us?” Moore admonished the team. “I’on believe that. Just like they scored thirty-one, we can score thirty-one. Defense. That’s it. You gotta hold’ em to a shutout in the second half. Offense. Let’s get our butts in gear and put some points on the board, damnmitt.

Moore’s speech was short-lived. On the ensuing kickoff to open second half play, Dallas took the kick and ran it back 70 plus yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 38-0 less than a minute into the third quarter.

By all intents and purposes, St. Louis was done after the touchdown return. Much to Moore’s chagrin, the final score was Dallas 73, St. Louis 0.

“We came down here and laid an egg,” Moore bellowed from the throes of the post game meeting on the chartered bus. He gave instructions
for the final phase of the trip. “For all you guys who came down here to party and enjoy the night life just know at eight o’clock tomorrow morning we’re leaving. If you’re not on this at bus at eight o’clock, you butt is going to be left here in Texas, damnmitt.

**********
“TeePee,” Marcus called out me after our 73-0 whipping from the Diesel. “Looking kinda slow out there, homeboy,”

“Marcus!” I yelled back, playfully tugging at Marcus’ midsection, “what’s up? Look at’chu, done got all fat and shit on me. You in love, fool?”

 “Man, gone,” Marcus suggested. “What’s up for the night? What ya’ll got planned.”

“Aw, man, dis’ yo’ town, we jus gon’ get in where we fit in.”

“Yeah, but what ya’ll wanna do?”

“Man, I’on know, but hey look, pull ova therre to wherre dat bus is. We got a team meeting right now, and Coach is already mad

                                                      **********
The trip didn’t turn out as well for St. Louis as Moore wanted it, but he was still glad they made it. He preferred to travel with fifty plus players, and considered canceling the trip at the last minute.

Not to show up at all wasn’t feasible when St. Louis had thirty-three players capable of matching up with the Diesel. Unfortunately, the Diesel handed the Bulldogs the worst defeat in their history.

Exhausted from the trip, Moore slept through about twelve of the fourteen hours of the return trip, opening his eyes only for a quick peep at the game film and to grab a bite to eat.

Once the team’s chartered bus reached North Oaks, Moore was livid again, and informed the team their practice routine of Wednesday and Thursday evenings had been adjusted.

“We want to see how many of you jokers show up on Tuesday,” Moore challenged, “to work on your game

**********
“Man, Marcus, it was good seeing you again, dirrty,” I said to Marcus as we arrived back to the Super 8 in the wee hours of Sunday morning. We had been out after the game at a local pub, having a few beers and chit chatting about old football stories. “You gon’ hafta come up to St. Louis and kick it wit us sometime soon.”

“Definitely,” Marcus assured, “definitely.”

“Aw’ight, man, I’ma call you sometime while we on the road tomorrow to let you know all is good,” I concluded, reaching out to Marcus to exchange the endearing handshake and hug widely practiced in the urban community. “’Preciate errythang.”

“Ya’ll be safe, T.P.,” Marcus advised, “and get in that weight room. Those Texas boys were a little bigger and stronger than ya’ll.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SHE’S GOT IT


From the book The Pride of Park Avenue by Toriano Porter

The lady that lives next door to my aunt has got it. Pretty cocoa brown skin, nice slim shape, charisma, crib and car—I mean the total package. She has a couple of kids, but who doesn’t these days?

I first peeped her a couple of months ago when I was home visiting for spring break. I usually posted at my aunt’s house while I was home for the school breaks (Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring and summer) so I kept close tabs on all of her nice-looking neighbors. But, I had never seen this particular woman before.

Fresh off the highway after driving three lonely, miserable hours, I noticed her and was instantly rejuvenated.

“Hi, how are you,” I said confidently, unloading my bags from the ‘93 Chevy Lumina I had brought with the student loan I borrowed that semester. I thought I was being suave. Obviously she wasn’t biting on what I was spitting because her reply was a snobbish

“I don’t know you.”

Her response screwed with my emotions a little, but I stayed poised. I swiftly explained to her I was her next door neighbor’s nephew home from college on spring break and I was just being cordial.

Know what she did? Yep, she slammed the door right in my face.

With no words, remittance or hesitation. Just boom, goodbye! How cold-hearted that was, I thought.

“Auntie,” I greeted my aunt as she crept outside to see that pretty young thing get her clown on with me, “who’s your new neighbor?”

“Boy, that’s Sheila,” my aunt answered, adding, “she’s a mean something and she’s not studying your young butt, so leave well enough alone.”

 Then she got clever.

“Why are you here anyway?”

Man, I hadn’t been home from school a good five minutes and people were already acting funkier than a dead dog. I kind of expected the step-child treatment from my aunt, but the neighbor was borderline rude.

“It’s spring break,” I informed my aunt, curious to f nd out the scoop on Sheila. “And it’s on and poppin’ already. Give me the vitals Auntie, give me the vitals.”
Auntie looked puzzled “The what?” she quizzed.

“The vitals,” I said, entering my aunt’s apartment. “Where does she work, how many kids does she have? Where is her boyfriend? You know, the vitals?”

“Lil’ boy please,” Auntie screamed at me when I asked about the lady’s info. “That women don’t want no young, broke, do nothing brother with no job like you.”

“Like me? Job?” I asked. “What is that suppose to mean? I play college ball, you know I can’t have a job.”

“No, you used to play college ball. Them days are over, hello!”

“I’m still on scholarship, though, so technically I still can’t work.”

“Any excuse is a good excuse,” Auntie retorted.

I was turning sour.

“Damn Auntie, why you keep coming to me twisted and sideways, did I do something to you last time I was here or something? I mean, all this heat and all I did was ask you about your funky acting neighbor. What gives?”

“What gives?” my aunt remarked, “what gives? I’ll tell you what gives. You gives me something on the food you’re going to be taking out my kid’s mouths or gives me my damn door-key back.”

“What?” I replied, trying to figure my aunt’s angle.

“You heard me,” she shouted. “You heard what I said.”

Boy, I wasn’t trying to blow up and go off on my aunt, but she was ego-tripping. I’m sitting there trying to get the scoop on the neighbor and she’s sitting there stagnating progress. I had to ease the situation.

“Hey, straight up,” I said to my aunt, “you need to hit some of this bud I got from my homeboy from K.C. ‘cause you’re tripping.”

“Lil’ boy you know I’on do no drugs in this house,” Auntie scoffed, “at least not this part of this house. Let’s go in the basement.”

“See, now that’s what I’m talking about,” I rejoiced, “let’s go in the basement, blow our brains back and talk about Miss Sheila, the future Mrs. Cassius Clay Winston.”

“Lead the way,” Auntie chimed in.

My Aunt’s basement was a pretty cool duck-off spot for me. It was a typical South St. Louis basement: washer and dryer, a bunch of old stuff and makeshift living quarters for the downtrodden or hard pressed luck relative toward the back.

I mean, I had my own flats back at school, but I was comfortable in her basement from time to time, especially late at night if you know what I mean?

“Where yo’ kids at, Auntie,” I started with the small talk, “at school still?”

“Why do you do that,” Auntie moaned. I thought she was talking about the way I licked the cigar before splitting it down the middle with both thumbs.

“To empty the tobacco out, duh,” I answered.

“No, fool,” Auntie said “why do you ask questions and answer them all in the same breath?”

“I don’t know,” I countered. “It’s a bad habit.”

“Well, you shouldn’t do that. It’s a very annoying habit.”

“Slow up, Auntie,” I screamed, “let’s not start that Cass Money bashing thing again. I thought we came down in the basement to relax and smoke some herb.”

“Boy, you need rehab,” Auntie bellowed out after watching me take a drag of the funny cigarette I had just rolled. “Lord please, bless my sister’s second child would ‘ya,” she added, reaching for the blunt herself.

I couldn’t do nothing but laugh at Auntie’s outbursts. They were so full of venom they almost stung, but she always followed her evil words with something that let me knew everything was still cool between us.

“Not bad, nephew,” Auntie exclaimed after her drag. “Not bad at all. Where is your friend from, Jamaica or Cuba somewhere?”

We were halfway through our session when I had another urge to ask about the next door neighbor.

“Okay,” Auntie screamed, “you starting to get on my nerves asking me about somebody who ain’t even studdin’ you.”

“Ain’t studding who,” I said, “me? You’re wrong, Auntie, that lady loves me.”

My aunt seemed astonished at my cockiness toward the situation.

“Pitiful,” Auntie said. “Just plain pitiful.”

“There you go doubting your lil’ nephew’s abilities again,” I protested. “All I need is a good ten minutes. Two minutes to introduce myself, two minutes to make her laugh, two minutes to take her clothes off , two minutes to take my clothes off and two minutes to do our thing. Oh, and another two minutes to clean up the mess.”

I was getting louder.

“12 minutes, Sheila, damn, give me 12 minutes.”

“Boy, calm down,” Auntie said, “that woman don’t want you.”

“How do you know,” I asked. It had just dawned on me that Auntie was a little overprotective of this mystery neighbor and my curiosity started to settle in.

“Auntie,” I said taking another drag of the marijuana blunt. “Ya’ll ain’t screwing each other are ya’ll.”

Auntie was stunned. “Boy, naw,” she screamed. “I’ll kick fire out your butt if you ever come at me like that again You herre me?.”

“I was just saying, Auntie, you acting kinda jealous or nervous or something over there. What’s wrong, Auntie? You high? Auntie, you high or something?”

“Quit playing so much,” Auntie shouted back, “and I’ll give you the scoop on Sheila.”

After awhile Auntie proceeded to give me the low down on Sheila, and it was quite shocking to hear.

“Go upstairs and look outside,” Auntie instructed me, “and look at the license plates on that green Toyota Camry out front. What do they say?”

“10-Step,” I said, not understanding the relevance of the question.

“What in the hell does 10-Step mean?

Auntie let me know that 12-Step was the drug rehab program Sheila had been on before she had moved next door. The word according to Auntie was that Sheila was a wild child from the Other Side of The City. In her late teens and early twenties she snorted coked, smoked weed and crack and snorted, sniffed and shot heroin, Auntie said.

“How old is she now?” I asked.

“About twenty-eight,” Auntie answered.

I was somewhat surprised. “Twenty-eight?” I questioned. “That’s all, twenty-eight?” I was getting more and more curious about this woman. “How long has she lived next door,” I continued.

“She moved in around the first of the year,” Auntie said.

“I thought them were some cats moving up in there?” I said, remembering the two dudes I had seen on my way back to school from the Christmas break.

“That was her brother and son,” Auntie corrected.

Again, I was surprised. “Damn, her son looked kinda old,” I said.

“She had him when she was twelve,” Auntie said.

“Twelve,” I said, perplexed. “How do you know all of that stuff is true, because that lady don’t look like she used to be no dope fiend?”

Auntie flashed a cocked-eyed smile, reveling the gold tooth she had on the left upper side of her mouth “she told me.”

“I thought you said she was mean?” I maintained.

“She is,” Auntie said. “But I guess she wanted to talk so one day she knocked on the door and introduced herself.” A mighty fine introduction, I thought.

“You lying.” I said unconvinced.

“Seriously, boy,” Auntie countered, “she came over and told me damn near her whole life story. How she did drugs, stole things for a living, have sex for money, everything.”

“Oh, so you’re Oprah now?” I responded.

“No,” Auntie casually said, “she just needed somebody to talk to and she knocked on the door. I never asked her one question.”

I was still not convinced that lady, that beautiful lady, was a drug addict.

 “Auntie,” I said, “why you hatin’ on me and my ballgame. If you don’t think I can put her on my team then say that. Don’t be coming out the wood works with all that non-sense.”

“I’m just letting you know the truth to what you asked me,” Auntie said matter-of-factly. “If you can’t handle the truth, don’t go asking for the truth. Like I said, Sheila used to be out there in those streets bad. She did some things and they have come full circle with her.”
Again, the curiosity level was raised. “What’chu mean, Auntie?” I asked. “I ain’t them little cookie cutters you popped out of your belly so quit talking to me like I’m in preschool.”

Auntie, encouraged by my willingness to know more about Sheila, laid it on me.

“Cass, Sheila has AIDS.”

I was stunned. I was saddened and silenced. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but it slowly came to me.

Auntie wasn’t hating on my game or trying to stop the unstoppable, she was just looking out for her lil’ nephew. I wasn’t quite prepared for the bomb she hit me with, but I was thankful Auntie really cared about me.

She had funny ways of showing it, but I knew she cared.

“Um, um, um,” I muttered after a prolonged silence. “Talk about blowing highs. I need me a drink or something. That pretty women next door has AIDS, huh, Auntie?” She nodded yes.  “That’s unbelievable,” I finished up.


“See, that’s why I gave up baseball,” I slyly joked as I helped my aunt up the stairs to her living room. “I’m always striking out.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Winds of Change


“The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future’s in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change…”

THE WINDS OF CHANGE BY TORIANO PORTER

The winds of change had swept through my boy Leon Moody so quickly, so briskly, that I had a hard time believing it was real.

I mean, it was only a few hours before when we had had the time of our young lives binge drinking, pot smoking and tactically plotting our enemies’ demise.

Although we were five deep at the time of the accident, it was only Moody and I at Regional Hospital. Everyone else was spread out at other emergency rooms across the metro.

Moody set the wheels in motion.

“Thank you, God, thank you Jesus,” Moody had painstakingly screamed from the throes of Regional’s emergency room. “For I know you saved us God, father Lord, you saved us.”

Consider for a minute Moody was a pot-smoking, beer guzzling, skirt-chasing, college football playing, gang-banging, weed-dealing, crack-slanging, hustling fool, the phrase ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ was as foreign to me as a South St. Louis youngster - like myself – taking up space in Russia, China or Japan.

Moody uttered the phrase shortly after the both of us had arrived at the hospital. Although I knew deep down the pain was real - everything about the homeboy was authentic - the phrase still threw me for a loop.

Trauma - especially the trauma Nose, Eric, Terry, Moody and I had just experienced - will knock you off your rocker for just a tad.

Laying up in that emergency room was a life-altering ordeal, so I could pardon Moody’s sudden outburst. We were so close to death that God was probably the only thing that could have saved us.

Still? Gangster Moody, though?

I rejected Moody’s conversion for the longest time. Who would I tote up with? Drink with? Cajole the females with? Hit the blocks with?

Shortly after that December, 1994 disaster, Moody went back to the community college in Illinois he was home from when we had our accident. I had left the City to play baseball at Jefferson County Community College in Hillsboro, Missouri.

Moody and I talked often. One day, he called.

“I’ve changed my life, bro,” Moody calmly said, as confidant as he was the first time I had met him during our recruiting trip to Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg some two years before. “I done gave up drinking, smoking and all that. I’m out. I’m out the game, bro.”

In my own selfish way, I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted my homeboy to be that same effervescent, outgoing ladies’ man he had been since I’d known him. I still wanted him to bang those blue and gold gang colors, tote pistols and smoke the finest cheeba with me, his boy.

I wasn’t sure if I could handle a straight and narrow Leon Moody.

I put his newfound faith to task during that phone call.
I knew he was in Palatine, Illinois playing ball for Rainey Harper Junior
College, but he’d soon visit St. Louis again. He had too. That’s where his family and friends resided.

“Aw’ight,” I strongly countered, “that’s all well and good, but them Six-Dukie niggas ain’t gonna want to hear that shit, cuzz. What happens if one of them cats we been beefing with run up on you and you ain’t bangin’ no more. Huh, cuzz?”

“You know what, bro?” a cool as ice Moody said. “I’m going to leave that in God’s hand that if them brothers see me they gonna have it in their hearts to know I ain’t with that stupid stuff no more. I’ma leave in God’s hand, you know?”

And with that, I knew the gangster Moody was no longer. I knew he was legit and I would never question his faith again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gearing up for a GEARS celebration


Below is a press release for a keynote speaking engagement I have at 4 p.m. next Wednesday Dec. 11 at MCC-Penn Valley here in KCMO. The organizers of the event will give out 120 copies of my novel "James Cool." 

The story is set in St. Louis in the summer of 1985 and I call it a beautiful little love story about a boy, a girl, their first kiss - and, yes, the love of baseball. Of course the title is derived from the north St. Louis street I lived on for nearly nine years, James 'Cool Papa' Bell, a negro league baseball great I had the pleasure of meeting once back in the day.


For immediate release
Release contact:
Toriano Porter

Picking up the pieces

Author, journalist Toriano Porter moves forward from death of son, close friends

Nov. 24, 2013 – IndependenceMO – One of the first things Toriano Porter did when he received word that his 16-year-old son, Toriano II, was shot and killed Sept. 28, 2009 in north St. Louis was “pray to God that my son’s death would not render me useless.”
Since November of 2008, Porter had been on a mission to make a difference in the lives of youth, specifically youth that have been classified at-risk to succumb to some of the harrowing challenges of everyday life.
Porter will continue his outreach as keynote speaker at the first GEARS Student Celebration at 4 p.m. Dec. 11 on the campus of Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley. The GEARS program began in Sept. 2011 and will acknowledged all of the students who have completed the program since then – up to 180, though about 120 students are expected to attend the event and receive a free copy of Porter's second book, "James Cool: A classic American novel."
Others expected to attend include tutors, faculty at Penn Valley, Literacy Kansas City Board Members. GEARS is an acronym for Guided Educational Access to Reading Skills and is a program administered by Literacy KC. There are two class instructors and about 30 volunteer tutors and just this semester, the number of students doubled to 70.
Porter will relay to the graduates how he spent his formative years growing up in the 3400 block of Park Avenue in south St. Louis, one of that city’s most notorious gang, drug and crime hot spots of the last three decades. He knows all too well the pitfalls that await young people who fail to take advantage of an opportunity to learn and educate themselves.
He feared his son’s resistance to his teachings would make his message a moot point.
“I beat up myself over the situation,” Porter says. “I felt like if I couldn’t inspire my son to greatness, how could I reach out to people that I had absolutely no history with and try to inspire and encourage them? I had a good friend basically tell me to ‘get over it.’ I mean he didn’t put it in those words, but he did tell me that I did the best I could as a parent and to let it be. That helped the process of healing begin.”
Currently a business/education reporter at the Lee’s SummitJournal in Lee’s SummitMo., Porter was back on the trail two days after his son’s funeral in 2009. He spoke to a group of at least 50 students at Roosevelt High School in south St. Louis. His message to students there was “to dream big and never stop dreaming.”
“Get your education,” Porter told the students. “Don’t end up a statistic. Have a dream and never stop trying to pursue it. There’s always going to be obstacles but have faith that you will see it through.”
One of Porter’s dreams had always been to write a book. Little did he know with the publication of his first book in 2008 would come a responsibility to help inspire some of today’s youth.
“It was put on my heart that the book was my opportunity to testify about the trials and tribulations that I’ve been through as a teenager and young adult,” Porter says of “The Pride of Park Avenue.” “Really, that’s what my book is all about: never giving up on your dreams no matter the circumstances that present themselves.”
Now, more than four years after his son’s death, instead of Porter being rendered useless, he is in ‘live cool’ mode after the recent publication of his second book “James Cool (circa 1985): a classic American novel.”
“James Cool is a work of fiction I describe as a beautiful little love story about a boy, a girl and the boy’s first kiss,” Porter says. “I tried to capture the innocence of youth that so many of us remember and can relate to.”
As for his ‘live cool’ mantra, Porter says events over the last few years of his life – in addition to his son’s death, his best friend of 23 years was gunned down in 2008 in St. Louis and his best friend from high school committed suicide a year later – has shaped his view on living “a stress-free, drama-free and hater-free life.”
 “When you lose your two best friends and your son, you have no choice but to come to grips with your own mortality,” he says. “My worst fears have been realized, so I have no fears. Emotionally, I’m cool. Don’t feel sorry for me. I will never be some tragic figure from Shakespeare. I’m in ‘live cool’ mode and I’m going to continue to enjoy my life and try to make a difference in the people’s lives I come across on a daily basis. If nothing else, I want to be an inspiration and an example on how to move forward in life despite setbacks.”
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Find Porter on twitter @torianoporter and on facebook at www.facebook.com/torianoporter. “The Pride of Park Avenue” and “James Cool” are both available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.