Story of the Locks
Milwaukee is cold this time of year. Duh. But I got a gig, and the gig is for a good cause, so here I am. I hate the cold. Hate it. You’d think I was born in the south for my aversion for the cold. I consider myself a southerner, for good or bad, but it wasn’t always so. I’m a boy from New Jersey, and love the Tri-State area, but feel no connection to it during the winter.
The flight to Milwaukee brought up a lot of old feelings, and I have no idea why. I’ve been on several planes in the last 4 years, but none of them have made me miss the life I left behind. Maybe the word “life” is too melodramatic, the flight made me miss the job I use to have.
Four years ago I was a flight attendant for American Eagle Airlines. I started flying when I was 22 and stopped when I was 29. I loved the job. It was an escape from problems I was having at home, but also I taught me a lot about who I was, and who I wanted to be. I usually never miss flying. Towards the end I was sick of it. On 9/11 I was in New York worried sick about my friends that I knew flew those routes. On the flip side, everyone I cared about was worried about me, all in all it was a surreal and terrifying experience. Slowly, it started to take the enjoyment of the job away. As traumatic as that was, it would be more then a year later before I left American Eagle.
One day in 2002 I woke up in Oakland California and looked in the mirror, and realized that I was beginning a transition. I remember looking at my face and thinking, it wasn’t the same one I’d washed before I went to bed. Months prior to that day, my life was falling apart. I’d lost everything and was sleeping in my car. All the things that everyone that loved me saw for me no longer held the same appeal. I didn’t want the things that I’d seen people around me have. Something was tugging at me, had been my whole life, but I never knew what it was, or how to name it. A longing for something that you can’t really put into words, but it’s always there in the corner of every major life decision. I’d gotten to the point where I had nothing left to loose and that voice, whispering in my ear was becoming more persistent. Ultimately I wanted to figure out who I was, and who I was going to be. Somewhere deep, I knew that was not being a flight attendant.
Poetry was a hobby. A good one. As a flight attendant, I’d been able to make a name for myself by going to all the little poetry slam venues, won a couple slams, had a couple laughs, made a couple friends. In the midst of it all, that pulling came back in full force and whisper, this is what I wanted to do, what I was meant to do. Perform, write, live life on my own terms. As a child I’d always been an artist. I was an exceptional little artist/painter, if 4th grade I wrote my own play, sung (lost that skill), and acted in several plays. In Jr. High, I got heavily involved with Hip-hop and became somewhat of a local “Puffy-Daddy”. Funny to think about it, but when I see people from High School some of them ask me if I’m still rapping. When I got older, I let all that go, along with the nickname Alfie, and forged this new person, Al that was an adult. Adults do things that are responsible. Like get married have 2.5 kids, buy a house with a white picket fence, work 9-5, retire and get an RV. Poetry changed all of that. I could no longer think on those terms. The world seemed like such a bigger place then that dream. It hit me like a ton of bricks, the thought that I would not follow in my parent’s footsteps. For some people this realization might be trite, or easy to come to, but for me, son of a Baptist preacher, who had always been given a “Cosby-esque” view of the world, being a full-time artist was scary. For months it dogged me. I wanted to do so much more then just write a three minute poem, or sling peanuts on a plane.
That day in Oakland was important because staring at the mirror, I decided to grow my hair. The a couple nights before the beautiful woman I was dating said she thought I would look good with long hair. It got me thinking that all my life I’d worn the same hair cut. Low-fade. Not once did I ever consider growing my hair out. Never. My haircut was controlled and tight exactly what everyone around me expected. I’d heard that growing dreds was supposed to be a religious experience. Before I started letting my hair grow, I thought it was corny mysticism, but that day in Oakland was a conversion of sorts. I knew I could no longer live my life the way people wanted me to. Or even in a way that was comfortable. More then anything, I wanted to be an artist. I always wanted to be an artist, I just never knew what my art was, now I’d found it.
I remember feeling like I was at the edge of a cliff, and I couldn’t see below, the road I’d walked to get there had been erased by a sandstorm, and all I could do was stay put or go forward. Some people have told me over the years that doing what I do as a living is brave. I think back to that cliff and know it wasn’t. Either I stayed put for the rest of my life, or I jump. There was no real choice. You jump. You jump and you pray the Lord will find a way to set you down easily, or give you wings to fly. I could end this post with something really corny, like “Thank God, he gave me wings!” But instead, I’ll just end by saying, I’m living the life I’ve always wanted. I’m doing the work that is important to me. On a whole things have worked out just the way they were meant to. Everything is not rosey. There have been plenty of hard times, and bad breaks. I’m not rich, probably never will be, I’m not comfortable, comfortable would have been staying at a 9 to 5, getting the steady check, but I don’t want that. I’m living, creating, working, and giving something back to the world. My gift is small, but it’s what I got to give. Thank God he gave me wings…LOL.