Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: me

My 17-year-old self and I argue and play basketball, I win

We’ll pick up my conversation with my 17-year-old self the morning after we left off, when I come downstairs for breakfast.

ME: Good morning.

17-Y-O-Me: (waves aimlessly, doesn’t take eyes from TV)

ME: Did you make coffee?

17-Y-O-Me: (looks at me like I’m crazy)

ME: Oh, right. You don’t drink coffee.

17-Y-O-Me: I’m not a pussy.

ME: Right. I forgot I felt that way.

17-Y-O-Me: Big softy now, eh?

ME: You wait until you have a 9-to-5 job.

17-Y-O-Me: I’ll never have one of those.

ME: Hey moron? (does a pointing back and forth between us to indicate yes, in fact, you will)

17-Y-O-Me: (throws remote at me, I dodge it, it hits glass front door but doesn’t break it)

ME: You idiot.

17-Y-O-Me: I’m the idiot?! You’re the one with the 9-to-5 job!

ME: It’s not that simple. And wait, are you blaming me for dodging something you threw at me?

17-Y-O-Me: Of course! You know the glass door is there!

ME: What do you want me to do, catch it?

17-Y-O-Me: Ha! Good one.

ME: Alright, that’s it. We’re playing basketball, right now. You and me. One on one.

17-Y-O-Me: (mocking) Don’t you need your coffee first?

ME: (fuming) Grab your shoes, dickwad.

(He grabs his shoes and we walk the 5 minutes to the basketball court in tense silence. I beat him handily. He’s in better shape, but not better enough, and he doesn’t use his body as well as I do. He challenges me to best two out of three but halfway through game two, which he’s losing, he starts visibly moping. He misses a jumper, and then…)

ME: What’s the problem, hair in your eyes?

17-Y-O-Me: (shoves me, I don’t lose dribble)

ME: Good defense? Where’d you learn that? (Does turnaround jumper, misses)

17-Y-O-Me: Look at Air Jordan over there! (tries running layup, goes out of control, misses wildly, ball rolls into the woods and under poison ivy. Him, instantaneously:) Your ball.

ME: I’m not getting it.

17-Y-O-Me: If I get it, it’s my ball.

ME: I’m not getting poison ivy because you suck at basketball.

17-Y-O-Me: (rage) If I get that ball, I’m taking it.

ME: If you’re taking that ball, I’m not playing anymore.

17-Y-O-Me: Fine, then I’ll just keep shooting until I win without you here.

ME: You think you can make 10 baskets by dinner?

(He attacks me, and now we’re fighting right next to the ball, rolling around in the poison ivy we were just trying to avoid. A car drives by and looks at us strangely, but we stop to both wave to indicate it’s all in fun, relatively speaking. When the car passes, we start again and kick the ball even further in and we stop, and, simultaneously:)

US: Shit.

(Looking all around us, at the plants)


ME: We should probably…

17-Y-O-Me: Go to the beach and get this stuff off of us.

ME: I’ll drive.

17-Y-O-Me: Like hell you will, grandpa.

(Ten minutes later, we’re in the car)

ME: Do you have sunscreen?

17-Y-O-Me: (chortles)

ME: I suppose you like getting sunburnt?

17-Y-O-Me: I don’t mind.

ME: That translates to “I’m too proud to put on sunscreen” in adult.

17-Y-O-Me: Oh Jesus.

ME: We going to South Beach?

17-Y-O-Me: Of course.

ME: I figured as much.

17-Y-O-Me: I love it.

ME: You would. I still like it, but I feel old there.

17-Y-O-Me: Well, I’m 17 and the ocean is the ocean.

ME: You’re looking for that girl, aren’t you?

17-Y-O-Me: (obviously lying) No!

ME: Yeah, you are. All the teenagers are at South Beach. That’s why I don’t like to go anymore. Look at it this way: If a girl was two years old when I was your age, she’s 17 now. Just think about that.

17-Y-O-Me: (pulls car over) Lambert’s Cove?*

ME: Lambert’s Cove.

17-Y-O-Me: (turns car around) I feel itchy already.

ME: Oh, don’t be such a drama queen. It wouldn’t work that fast.

17-Y-O-Me: (takes hand, rubs it all over my face) You’d better hope not.

ME: (pushes stick into neutral, he immediately puts in back in gear)

17-Y-O-Me: … (rage turns to admiration)

17-Y-O-Me: Okay, that was pretty good.

(We high five, and then some pop song comes on the radio that we both like and we blast it and start singing together.)


* This would obviously not be happening at sunset, but I mean jeez.

My 17-year-old self and I debate LeBron James

Imagine my surprise when, after writing two columns on LeBron James on Friday morning I walked into my childhood home that evening, which I thought was empty, and was confronted with my 17-year-old self watching SportsCenter, LeBron news on repeat. (Please ignore space-time continuum problems.)

ME: Hi.

17-Y-O-Me: Hey.

ME: Do you know who I am?

17-Y-O-Me: (looks me up and down) I have a guess.

ME: Okay, I can tell you do. Because, like, you’re me and we’re still pretty similar.

17-Y-O-Me: (makes show of playing with long hair) In some ways.

ME: I never would have said something like that.

17-Y-O-Me: Apparently you would have.

ME: That either. I wasn’t that aggressive.

17-Y-O-Me: Maybe you should have been.

ME: So, uh… how about LeBron?

17-Y-O-Me: It’s crazy.

ME: He looks so douchey up there. (At the moment, the highlights from the Heat Beach Party are playing and Neil Everett or Linda Cohn is screaming something. Chris Bosh is acting like a wrestler.)

17-Y-O-Me: I don’t know. He looks like he’s having fun.

ME: Douchebags can have fun too.

17-Y-O-Me: What’s wrong with having fun?

ME: Um, nothing, I suppose. But if I was a Cleveland fan, I’d be upset by this.

17-Y-O-Me: But you’re not.

ME: Yeah, but I can empathize.

17-Y-O-Me: Yeah, it sucks. But so what?

ME: Well, I mean, I have a few good friends from Cleveland…

17-Y-O-Me: Oh. What does that matter?

ME: Are you saying empathy is bad?

17-Y-O-Me: (suddenly defensive; I notice this trait from my youth) No, that’s not what I’m saying.

ME: Then what are you saying?

17-Y-O-Me: Isn’t this just kind of cool?

ME: I don’t know. It just feels so yucky.

17-Y-O-Me: Sports are yucky all the time.

ME: I suppose that’s true…

17-Y-O-Me: No really, sports are yucky all the time. Who gives a crap? They’re only sports.

ME: Funny that you say that when you’ve spent your entire life trying to learn everything possible about them.

17-Y-O-Me: (mimics entire sentence in play voice, then turns beet red in embarrassment)

ME: (ignoring it) You know what sucks for us?

17-Y-O-Me: What?

ME: All that memorization we did—who played what position for what team when, all the records and stuff—anyone can get all that off their phone now. Everyone’s a sports expert. It’s really hard to make a name for yourself.

17-Y-O-Me: We probably should have been a lawyer.

(We look straight at each other like: No way.)

ME: You know what you need? Some financial advice.

17-Y-O-Me: I make $15 an hour at Brickman’s at the moment. I’m doing just fine.

ME: I mean long-term, numbnuts.

17-Y-O-Me: Numbnuts. Real original. What are you, from Jersey?

(I pounce on the couch in a rage and we start fighting for about 30 seconds before we simultaneously yell “Glass table!” to remind each other that we risk breaking it, and we stop)

17-Y-O-Me: (sarcastically) Yeah, you’ve changed.

ME: You mean I’m stronger?

17-Y-O-Me: (turns red, doesn’t want to admit it) Whatever.

ME: Whatever.

17-Y-O-Me: (suddenly) Can you buy me beer?

ME: You don’t even know what you’re doing with that stuff.

17-Y-O-Me: Oh, and you do.

ME: You DICK! (start fighting again)

17-Y-O-Me: Glass table!

(I keep fighting, he pushes me off)

17-Y-O-Me: You know, it’s almost like you come back here to just to fight me. I mean look at you! You’re worse than I am. I’m perfectly calm, and by the time you leave you’re sitting on the couch just like me, watching ESPN over and over. It’s almost like you feel like you can’t do that in the city, when you totally can. Not my fault you can’t remember that the good things in life are simple. We island folk have it good.

ME: “We island folk.” You pretentious fuck.

17-Y-O-Me: Whatever. It’s true.

ME: Hey dickhead, I have news for you.

17-Y-O-Me: Oh yeah, what?

ME: I’ve had sex.


Happy Birthday to this guy

Well we’re here again, aren’t we? That’ll happen. Gonna have a good day today. I can feel it.

Borders (not the bookstore kind)

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a running dialogue today about a NYT trend story that basically says non-blacks are taking over Harlem. He disagrees, but more to the point is indifferent about what—even if true—it even means when there are like, real problems for black people. Something like: Gentrification isn’t new, and the root problem is bigger than any one instance of it happening.

But the better question is whether it’s happening or not. He asks in this post:

Still, thinking more on the geography the Times calls “Harlem” raises some questions for me:

“But the neighborhood is in the midst of a profound and accelerating shift. In greater Harlem, which runs river to river, and from East 96th Street and West 106th Street to West 155th Street, blacks are no longer a majority of the population — a shift that actually occurred a decade ago, but was largely overlooked.”

By my estimate this basically places Morningside Heights (amongst other things) inside of Harlem. I imagine that might have been true at some point. But those borders sound really permissive to me. Am I off?

What I thought (and wrote a comment to this effect that is basically reproduced here) is that it’s no different than a phenomenon I was writing about earlier in Queens, where most black neighborhoods are referred to as “Jamaica” on the nightly news, et al., because it’s expedient. If the Times is including Morningside Heights in its map of “Harlem,” maybe they’re going by an old map that places it “inside” a greater Harlem, but I agree with (Run) T-NC that that seems a little off. Which gets us to the idea of how a place is defined. If Harlem did once swallow Morningside Heights whole, why doesn’t it now? And to where does it extend? Most importantly, why do we consider it to extend to wherever it extends?

A friend told me a long time ago that I was into the idea of “place,” and I’m really starting to feel that. I’m about 200 pages into William Vollman’s Imperial, which is already the most exhaustive account of the idea of “place” I’ve ever read—and I have 800 pages to go. It’s all about Imperial County, California and its sister region on the Mexican side and treats the area (wisely, I believe) as a single entity, with this crushing vivisection that makes it almost impossible to view as a unit. But for most of history it was a unit, and at some point it very well may be again. On top of all this, I was in Imperial County last week, spending 48 hours of Christmas break in Palm Springs with pops and bro. I wanted to see the Salton Sea—a reeking, festering, dead body of water around which a good portion of Vollman’s Ouija-like narrative revolves—but was talked out of it, or rather basically forbidden (as family time was short) by my stepmom, who said she had investigated it for kayaking purposes and found it “disgusting.” I didn’t have the heart to say well yeah…

But it all gets to the idea of defining a place. I’ve tried to do this before with MV and think I did a bad job [note: I just re-read it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I feel like I was grasping for something I didn’t quite reach] but I’m trying with Queens now and I think I’m getting some good stuff down. Definitely helps to not be from there and not be there; while there’s something to be said for writing things down as they happen*, there’s also a value in using what you remember—it’s our memories that make places what they are, to us, and it’s important to be true to that.

* Of course, I did write everything down already, but that’s not the point.