"...in a training at the real estate company I am working for, they kept asking us what our Big Why is. Your "Big Why" is what gets you up in the morning, what powers you through your day, the touchstone you remember as your work hard.
I actually had to leave early because I got so upset (not visibly, thank God) with this question and my inability to answer it.
I have no clue what my "Big Why" is anymore and it feels scary and empty and terrifying to admit it..."
The above is pulled from a longer post on a friend's Facebook page. Reading about her existential crisis, I not only could empathize, I could relate. Every bit of emotion, logic and spiritual angst I knew well.
February of 2012 is when I wrote "Why the F*ck I Do This". That wasn't that long ago. I do this dance ever few years, and sometimes every few months. Pulling it out of the digital mothballs, and reading it, I can say without equivication, it remains the one piece of writing that defines who I am.
An hour edit, a new title, it's ready to be unleashed on the world again. When I posted the original in 2012, it was pyschological girding needed to remain motivated. In 2014, I'm posting it because we all need a theme song written just for us, and we all need our own manifesto.
(The Return of) Why the F*ck I do This
It’s 1993. Georgia Tech is kicking my ass. The line said at orientation “look to your left, look to your right, only one of you will still be here after freshman year” is echoing loudly in my head. I refuse to let this school beat me. So far, Tech is doing a good job of winning.
I’m thinking I shouldn’t have rolled over sophomore year. My high school math teacher that year convinced unmotivated me to switch to another class. It was her solution to help 14 year-old me raise his GPA. Bored and unfocused as I may have been, failing her class would have woke my ass up. That’s the thought 20-year-old me is pondering. Going for the easy A--okay, it was an easy B--got me a decent GPA, it didn’t prepare me for the rigors of a place like Tech.
I need an outlet, a place to go.
That turns out to be weekend trips to Blockbuster and holding up in my dorm room for 12 to 16 hours straight watching movie after movie. Some of the movies are period pieces and Black & White classics I saw countless times on TCM over the course of two Summers as a kid. I’m renting films featuring favorite actors like Cary Grant and Lauren Bacall. Others are the independent films making it to Blockbuster’s shelves.
My girlfriend is ecstatic at first. It’s young stupid love for both of us. Cuddling on a blanket laid out on my dorm room’s hard floor, watching movie after movie for hours is fun.
After a few months, she asks me how many times do we have to watch a movie filled with all white people in 19th century England? She wonders why we have to sit through one more independent film with no names, and production values so cheap, the art budget could barely decorate a closet, let alone a 90 minute feature.
Jump ahead. Ga Tech has indeed beaten me. I’m mentally bruised, working at Best Buy, and after flunking out, gun shy about school. Still watching 12 to 16 hours of film at a time on the weekends though. Only now I’m doing it with my boys and all our friends.
W-5, our apartment on Buford Highway, had evolved into the hangout spot. The couches in GA Tech’s student center are gone. The stereotype of black students sitting together in the same spot every day for years, that thing you’ve seen in a number of college films, is true true. Trekking up Buford Highway is only a 15 minute drive. It’s quiet enough to study, busy enough that you don’t feel alone. During the day, we are the new couches. On the weekends, W-5 is a film mecca.
It’s usually the core six or seven of us watching movies, some nights we’ll pack 30 people into W-5’s living room designed for families of 4. We’ve earned a reputation for our eclectic mix of films. We’ll go from watching DOLEMITE to LADY AND THE TRAMP one evening and burn through as many Jackie Chan films as possible on another.
Once we hear someone hasn’t seen FLETCH or missed seeing FEAR OF A BLACKHAT on Monday, we know what sections of Blockbuster we’re going to hit up on Friday.
More than occasionally, we’ll throw in someone like Pedro Almodóvar. This will prompt some of our boys to look at the rest of us like we’re nuts when the first transvestite shows up on screen. However, as the cute girl I’ve strategically placed myself next to, and haven’t started talking to--jokes yes, standard boy-girl conversation, no--is having a good time, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is having a good time. Who knew the weird film Ric, Ali and Charles picked was going to be that good? We did.
By this point, I’m writing poetry. Bad, shitty poetry. I’m good with dialogue and creating characters.
We’ve seen CLERKS. After Tech TV played MALLRATS ad nauseum, and Ric has watched almost every time it was on, he has a preternatural urge to see CLERKS. Renting it, he’ll find the first 10 minutes boring, which has him worried that it won’t be as good as MALLRATS. Ten minutes beyond that point, he’ll stop the tape and wait for me to get home from work.
“Chuck, 20 minutes in and I knew you’re going to love this one.” At the time, he was right. These were cats just like us. Talked just like us. Stumbled through problems just like us. It didn’t matter that we were a bunch of black guys from Georgia, New York and Florida who loved football and basketball, and not white guys from New Jersey who loved hockey.
We watch SWINGERS a few months later. It clicks for my boys. “Chuck, why can’t you write a script about us. CLERKS, SWINGERS, that’s us.” And so on a notepad go the first ideas for a film we wanted to call “Nigs”. Quite possibly the most politically incorrect and unmarketable title I will help create.
There was me and my boy Ric*. We were the funny guys who rarely, if at all, ask for the girl’s number even after we’ve spent all night talking to them.
There’s Hal, who has the pretty light eyes pulling in women like tractor beams, the corny jokes, and the even cornier cartoon imitations women can’t get enough of.
There’s Twain, the former player who has shifted right into monogamy, and has started regularly going to church again.
There’s Ali, an endless source of astute observations presented as statements, not jokes, that will have us laughing for hours. “Is she wearing her wrinkly ass prom dress,” forever lives in infamy (and with the benefit of maturity, retrospective shame).
There are more and we all go in.
I turn our long night debates using SUPERMAN II as a near perfect guide on how to live your life (never give up being Superman just to please someone else, neither of you will be happy...and you’ll get your ass kicked by a redneck in Alaska) into scenes.
Our 2 a.m. 60 second poetry** battles, one minute to write a poem about the cutest girl in IHOP that night, with her as the judge, I replicate. We spent a lot of nights in IHOP. And you know writing poetry about a girl to get her number is some pimp shit. What do you expect from brothas who had combined the words “dick” and “erudite”, with the phrase “vast wisdom of the universe, all in a tiny little area”, to create a one-sentence treatise that defines good sex.
I remember as many geeky metaphors and lines we’ve created as I could, mining them for dialogue and plot ideas.
“I feel powerful. Like I just added 6 inches to my dick.”
“Theories don’t pay the bills.”
“A man is at a low point when he’s convinced himself a titty-fuck was just as good as the real thing.”
It was obviously going to be raunchy and we were aiming for an R rating.
It wasn’t only about crass jokes. I include moments like our group being ripped apart over women.
Some of us had moved back to our hometowns. Out of frustration for a few. Because it was time to move on to the next thing for most.
We were getting well (extremely well) paying engineering jobs in places like Seattle and the middle of Alabama, hating every minute of it.
Even with my writing, even with my growing interest in film, I still had no idea what the hell I wanted to do with my life. That described all of us. We were in our mid-twenties.
We were young black men trying to figure out how to do things their parents didn’t have the opportunity to do. Learning that there were hidden pitfalls and obstacles we weren’t prepared for. We were young black men trying connect as men and not just boys who could hold conversations constructed entirely of movie quotes. I explored how we were starting to drift apart.
That’s the script I started writing. A story of five black guys growing up and the amazingly smart, funny and equally capable women in their lives, with more than the occasional dick joke.
I never got to finish that script. There’s a 6th or 7th draft sitting on a hard drive somewhere. However, considering a better version of my SUPERMAN II monologue shows up seven years later in KILL BILL II, and my big scene with the main character playing ball against his girl shows up three years later in LOVE AND BASKETBALL, it’s going to need a major overhaul. It’s a reminder that someone else is going to do it too, you might as well be first.
This is why I fucking do this. I’m always trying to recreate movie nights at W-5. And I never forget about five dudes in an apartment pointing at a screen saying "we want that too."
Oh. And I still owe those mutherfuckas a “Nig” script. Just not called “Nigs”.
*And it was really me. Ric eventually learned how to ask for the number. Ask him about the time he stopped the car in the middle of Peachtree Street when you could still cruise it, and forced me to ask for a random girl’s number. Wild gesticulating and protests that I didn’t want to holler, did not become one of my finest hours. I will stand by the greatness that is the line “Let me show you my little dog.” I had a Pound Puppy I carried around with me. It wasn’t innuendo, I really wanted to show cute girls my Pound Puppy. It made them laugh. Trust me, it was funny.
**Never ask a black man going to GA Tech if he’s from Morehouse. Never ask a woman if she’s pregnant. Never ask if we were inspired by LOVE JONES to write poems. We were writing poetry 2 years before LOVE JONES. Check yourself son.