Sunny Birmingham decided not to be so sunny after all. I had a British phone number. I managed to knock somewhere around thirty boxes of sneakers onto an elderly woman as I attempted to pull one box from a large stack. I became invested in a hostile exchange of words with a native Brummie, in which the only word we exchanged was a series of “Whats.” I may have traveled to HSBC four times before becoming a new customer. That’s week two. Apparently HSBC requires a two step process in setting up a bank account with the organization. I walked in to speak with a personal banker and they claimed to have been filled to the brim with appointments and walk-in’s and requested I come the next morning. I did. Packed all of the documents I assumed I’d need to open an account as an international student and traveled to City Centre at nine in the morning. HSBC sat me down and I spoke with a beautiful young lady about my options. I was told that I would need my passport, student visa, official sealed letter from the university, proof of address, a pint of blood, three strands of perfectly coiled hair, a semen sample, and three riddles from the Troll under the bridge. And even if I had all of that at the point of me sitting down, I’d still have to reserve another time to come back and finish the process. I was a bit outraged that without being informed about the first process only being a sit down, I decided to awake at eight in the morning simply to open a bank account. I was given an appointment for four days past. I dropped in the next day while in the area just in case they would have some time and…nope! Come back Friday.
I spent the duration of that week getting further settled and setting myself up for a trip to London. I have two wonderful friends in London that I had met several years ago in New York City. My best friend, Quinn, called me up one day and asked for what seemed like an outlandish favor. He said that he had two female friends that were traveling to NYC from London and they had no accommodations for the first few days of their trip. I didn’t know them from a grain of salt. But once Chioma got on the phone and I heard her British accent, I thought to myself, “Well what the Hell. She’s probably a cutie pie.” The normal man response to such a request. I gave my blessing and finally met the two sisters, Chioma and Chinelo. They turned out to be great company and real chill women so we kept in touch. I told them that although London was on my bucket list, I’d probably get to Paris first. Lo and behold, I ended up in the UK instead. I was pleased to reach out and inform them that God must’ve been looney to allow ‘ole Conley a trip abroad. Travel is pretty cheap in the UK, as so many people have heard. I never fully understood it until I became physically aware that taking a flight from Birmingham to Florence, Italy is practically the same as flying from Chicago to New York, but cheaper. So hop skipping a train from Birmingham to London was a breeze. The thought of it anyway. I purchased a separate return ticket since I was unaware of when I’d actually come back. I found out the hard way that I could’ve purchased an open two way ticket in which the return price would only be a few pence more. Oh well. Onward march.
I got my banking squared away on Friday morning and hit the train immediately after. I took Virgin Railways from the New Street location. Obviously the Virgin Group is a major player in the UK. God bless Richard Branson. I bought an advance ticket for the trip that was clocked at two hours and twenty minutes. There were faster trains but this one was the right price. After leaving Birmingham, the trip is pretty much two hours of rural landscapes. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen. At one point, the train passed a field where a large group of sheep stood grazing on the vegetation. I had to blink twice as I came to the realization that it had been the first time in my life that I saw sheep in their natural habitat. I’d seen sheep in petting farms before. And zoos especially. But for a guy that grew up in Chicago and lived years in NYC, there was pretty much a dearth of sheep herds. When the sheep became an instant memory, I finished the ride by reading Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares and catching up on some much needed sleep. In the UK, the train tickets are used for entry into the terminal as well as departure. I failed to realize that and left my stamped ticket nestled tight in the holder on the headrest in front of me. I followed the crowd out toward the exit gates and quickly learned that I was blocked from getting out. Everyone would insert their tickets in a slot and the bulky barriers would rise up for passage. I caught on quick and ran back to my train to search for the ticket I left behind. It was no longer there. Either the conductor grabbed it as trash or some random passenger, for some random reason, decided that it would be beneficial for them to take my orphaned ticket. As I walked back to the gate sunken in my own shame, I saw a guard standing by the handicap gate. I approached him and told him that my ticket had been taken by the conductor. I don’t know why I said that but that’s what came out. He told me that the conductor would never do that. Never in a million years. I had to inform him that a million years must have passed because the conductor has my ticket. He looked at me like him opening the gate was equivalent to him giving up a kidney and he decided to let me out. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I was there. I had arrived. And I’d obviously spent money to get there. So let me the Hell out!
I’m in London.
London truly felt like home the moment I landed. Birmingham is awesome. It’s spectacular but it doesn’t have the panache. The bustle I’m used to is in London. People were walking like they were all on cocaine. Signs were plastered here and there for the tourists. This side for that street. That street for this landmark. It had taken me about five steps to get my rhythm back. I actually had to stop myself and silently say, “Bro, you’ve lived in the greatest city on Earth. Get that old thing back.” And I got it. I slung my duffel bag across my shoulder and ran the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever through my mind. I hit the streets and was already a master of the traffic direction, thanks to my two weeks in Birmingham. I saw other tourists struggle with crossing the street and I scoffed at the amateurs. My first stop was the British Museum. Chioma was still at work and Chinelo was traveling down from Cambridge. I had a few hours to myself. The museum was grandiose. Iron gates opened to the marble entrances. It seemed like a million people were either entering or exiting. There was no fee to visit. My bag was killing me by this point. It had been a slight drizzle since I’d been there and my clothes were moist. I didn’t see a bag check but was absolutely sure they had one somewhere. Didn’t matter. Everything was gorgeous. The ceilings were high like synagogues. The first room I entered was King George’s Library. There were old anthologies and antique statues that were originally collected by King George III. Overhead were shelves upon shelves of texts. Entirely too much material for one man to have read in a lifetime. The colors were of warm bronze and ivory. I spent the next three hours looking at artifacts from ancient Africa, India, Rome, Greece, Egypt, England, etc. There were mummies and stone busks. Information overload. You could live there for a year and not have learned everything. The visit was quite enchanting. I became famished and needed nourishment.
I decided to grab a falafel wrap and wait on Chioma. Once she got off, she had me ride the Tube to St. Paul. The stop was pretty much outside of the St. Paul Cathedral. At night, the monument is lit and resembles the US Capitol Building. By this time, the rains were heavy. The UK seemed to have rained for two weeks straight after that. I had no umbrella and a light duffel, which by that point, felt like a bag of bricks. Chioma and I gathered at a burger spot with famous milkshakes. I was too soaked to try one but I had a succulent lamb burger with a beer. We also met a friend of hers and began a dialogue that ventured from television to Nigerian women in the UK desiring relationships with American men. I let them in a little secret; the men in the States are a mess as well. The night had grown old and I departed with Chioma to her childhood home in Balham. Her neighborhood is a quiet residential district with trendy food shops and small homes. The roads are so narrow in London that I could spread in the middle and touch both curbs. I’m 5’6. That’s an exaggeration of course, but pretty damn narrow. Chinelo picked us up from the Tube station and I saw their home. I met their father that night and he seemed to be very hip. I expected something a bit different in a Nigerian household but he was loose and comical. The next day was devoted to tourism. Chinelo was on business and Chioma and I headed out to Parliament for our first stop. We took the Tube toward Westminster and viewed the Prime Minister grounds. That road led us toward Parliament and Big Ben. Chinelo met us there. Being in that exact spot was a wash of history. That city is so damn old and historic. I almost felt embarrassed for the US. On the flip side, I’m so proud that for such a young country, we have managed to be at the forefront of innovation and industry. I don’t know how the world allowed that to happen because it instantly hits you how dated England is. You see some of the architecture and feel the impact of World War II. Some buildings are Victorian. Others are post modern. This is a city that was actually bombed to shit. There are civilians that have actually seen the war in their youth. That feeling became so powerful. Of course I took that with me as we saw the Queen’s garden, Buckingham Palace, and Picadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus is like a conservative Times Square. I actually enjoyed it much better. Not as cluttered. Not as facetious. And all of the shops actually matter. I tend to avoid Times Square with great will. The ladies and I got back to Balham, and at the suggestion of a good friend of mine, Chanel Carroll, I suggested we get some Nando’s for supper. Outrageously good. It was a party in my belly and chicken was the main guest.
Chioma and Chinelo promised me a night of Afro Beats. Chioma had to study for her French test so Chinelo and their brother, Kelechi, took me to a club in the financial district of London with their friend, Nneka. I threw on my sexy for the night. Chinelo was looking quite ravishing, though she drove like a bat out of Dante’s Inferno. We made it safely. I thanked the Lord that Joanie Conley didn’t have to fly nearly two thousand miles to identity her son’s body. Security wasn’t as aggressive as they are in NYC. There was a pat down but no one went for my groin. No one took five minutes to inspect the authenticity of my I.D. by rotating it multiple times. We go inside and it is beyond me what that music was. Afro beats sounds like a group of Reggae and West African percussionists found themselves together in one room, arguing about who’s music will get played. It wasn’t bad but I couldn’t find the bassline to save my life. I surveyed the room to pick out the dancing rhythm and everyone was doing their own thing. I was lost. It would’ve taken Angela Lansbury to find me. Especially after Kelechi filled me with champagne. Once the southern Hip-Hop had taken over the sound system, I was king of the dance floor. The fellas there were familiar with the music but for the first time, I felt like I owned the place. I was drunk by the night’s end but still a man of my composure. I passed out and was awakened in the middle of the night by a nudge. I looked in the darkness and swore I saw an image of a man disappear. I spoke, thinking I was looking at Mr. Oganya. The shadow disappeared. Could’ve been a hyper-active imagination. Could’ve been the Brandy. I don’t know. Sunday was pretty chill. After everyone recovered by 2pm, we all headed to a famous carne spot called Bosphorus. Located in West London, Bosphorus is every bit of satiating and gluttonous. I had the large mix which consists of this: pork chunks, chicken breast meat, mini chicken wings, gyro meat, cabbage, condiments and pita bread. It didn’t make sense to me until I had it. The type of meal you give to a man to curb the taste for sex. Who can get nude after a meal like that? I wanted to lay out on the sidewalk with a sign that read ‘Paint me the color of gravel and leave me the Hell alone.‘ But no. The Oganya kids did not do that for me. Instead, they brought me to a Catholic church service with full on itis. The priest could’ve slandered my own Mother without my acknowledgement. I struggled to hear, doubted if I’d even known what was being said had I been able to hear, and used every muscle in my abdomen to curtail my bowels. Service finished quicker than a Midwestern school boy. Later that evening, Chioma, Kelechi and I went to a jazz set in Brixton. That part of town has had its infamy but today it is a bustling epicenter for young adults fresh out of college. The streets looked a bit like Gotham. Some roads were dark and moist, but full of life. Others were bright and popping with markets, shops and entertainment centers. It was a great time.
Monday was the wind down of my trip. Chinelo and Kelechi had left the evening before. Chioma had work. I said my salutations to her in the morning. I stuck around for a couple more hours before heading out to see Coleman Domingo’s one man show, A Boy and His Soul. Domingo is a very talented and charming actor that created a memoir about his experience growing up in West Philadelphia and coming to terms with his sexuality. The story was rooted in the soul music of the time. Domingo played several characters, danced, sang and brought the place down with a standing applause. He was the essence of love and generosity by baring something so personal with a group of a hundred plus strangers. I became familiar with Coleman Domingo when Shaka King began production on his debut feature film, Newlyweeds. I knew Shaka, his Director of Photography, Daniel Patterson, and his main actress, Trae Harris. I learned more about the cast and Domingo played a large supporting role. That capped my London experience and I prepared myself to escape from the big city. Chioma made sure I arrived at the Euston station safely and I boarded my train back to Birmingham. The rest of the week played pretty even. Me reading and writing and feeling like my life belongs in London. My roommate, Laura, sympathized with the feeling. There was a knock on my door late Thursday night. Not too late but night had well begun. I opened to find a good portion of my course mates outside. Before that, I had only met Leah, my classmate who happens to be my roommate as well. I invited them all in for a good hour or so of getting to know one another. Everyone from my acting course is American, so we bonded over our cultural familiarity and all of our episodes with getting acclimated to the UK. That visit lifted me back to full positivity. A good part of the group went to BSA the following morning to get some last minute business wrapped up and had dinner together. Week three ended with me feeling fully confident in myself and the program.
Until the next episode…
I had just left what had to have been the longest layover in my life. Ten hours. No human being should ever have to experience it. Had I been traveling in the States, that would’ve been a perfect timeframe to leave the airport and check out the surrounding scenery. No. I was switching planes in Stockholm, Sweden. To leave the airport would’ve mean’t a trip to customs with no reason to be there. I spent another two hours in the air and arrived at Birmingham International Airport. It was quiet. Probably close to 8pm when I stepped off of the plane. My prospective landlord, Colin Sims, was kind enough to pick me up so that I wouldn’t have to suffer being lost on a train or haggled by a cab. Immigration was a breeze in Birmingham. I showed them my passport and student visa and they asked maybe three questions. After that, I was declared a temporary Brit. I smiled joyously, and took a long breath of relief as I walked past the Asian man who was detained for further questioning.
To my astonishment, Colin looked exactly like the Dutch Businessman from Hostel. Anyone who has not seen the movie should know that, that observation was not a good thing. Anyhoo, Colin looked just like that guy but with long, stringy grey hair. Very creepy. I imagine he was a hippie back in his day. He was standing amongst a pool of multi-cultural peoples waiting for family members to embrace. In Colin’s hands was a paper sign with his name on it, rather than mine. He offered to carry one of my bags to his car and we were on our way. Our opening dialogue was about my studies and about the differences in the UK culture. Colin drives this mini station wagon and the wheel being on the opposite side of the car completely threw off my balance. I was prepared to crash the entire ride home since riding in the opposing lane and the roundabouts were totally new experiences for me. The streets made no sense to me, and they still don’t. One of my roommates was already home by the time I landed. Her name is Leah and she is a sweetheart. After I got settled in my room, Leah began to explain some difficulties she had with transitioning so that I may fare a little better. She also described what I should do with the next couple of days to get myself acclimated with the Birmingham lifestyle.
My room has green carpeting and antique looking wooden furniture. Desk, armoire, dresser. A mattress on a flatbed was provided. All I needed to come with were clothes and bedding. The house is three levels: ground, 1st level, and 2nd. There is a beautiful garden past the kitchen that looks very Victorian with the low hanging vines, wooden ornate benches and brick passageways to the neighboring gardens. An iron gate provides the security into the house. The place is old, having been around nearly two hundred years now. The city government refurbished the old flooring and electric wiring back in the 1980’s. Colin purchased four homes on the same road. There are two bathrooms. The shower does not have a full enclosure and I came to learn that open baths are normal in the UK. It became like a sport to learn how to scrub myself without flooding the entire bathroom floor. Very delicate movements. I mastered it. Within the first four days, I hooked up a pair of my clippers to a UK power adaptor and blew one of the sockets. The doorbell rang immediately afterwards and I looked through the peephole. I saw Colin standing at my doorstep and thought to myself, Well damn. I blew out the entire street. It wasn’t the case. Colin had come by at the same moment by coincidence. He needed to check a bulb in one of the rooms. Luckily, the fuse box was located and reset so that an electrician was unnecessary. I settled in to the idea that I’d needed to locate a barber that was worthy enough to trim the crown of Conley. There is this small shop two blocks from the house with a Ghanian barber. His building looked more like a cinder block hut. I went in there and told him to simply trim the loose hairs on my face. He gave me an entire lining, which was pretty solid. He then became my barber. Mostly because I left a bar of soap in there by accident and came back the next day to find that the barber had placed it to the side for my return.
I caught the number 16 National Express bus to City Centre. Brummies call what we in the States would call our downtown, their city centre. That is where the acting school is located. I was to take the National Express bus and to not confuse it with the Black Diamond bus or another private bus company. All of which travel the same routes. All of which have the same route numbers. The National Express bus is a double decker. The ones London is so famous for. A MA Acting student from last year’s class had been helping me throughout the summer with any questions I may have had. His name is Kevin and I met him toward the end of my week. His classmates were doing their final performances based on their thesis ideas. I was lucky enough to be in the city during the first week of September and was the only one in my course to see what lies ahead. The work that was performed was simply outstanding. Very professional in every way. I began to get excited because their work showed me that I was in good hands. Let’s face it, I’m not at RADA. If I could be half as good as what I had seen, I’d be more than happy. There were two days of performances and when the work had wrapped, everyone caught a few drinks at a local pub. It’s funny to say “pub.” The students were very generous and accommodating of my inquiries. One student named Jai donated his top comforter, computer speakers, and books to my need. We ended up talking for hours inside a nearby Starbucks about the program, what it means to be a person of color in study, the politics of the States and India, and romance.
I had to get a new cell number and couldn’t get a contract since I had no bank account at the time. I had spoken with two other students about the possibility of unlocking my iPhone instead of purchasing a new phone in Europe. Pay as You Go plans are super standard here. I had gotten one that would suit my needs. I decided to go with a company called o2 that has two locations inside this huge mall. There were literally two o2 stores in the same exact spot on two adjacent floors. They were not connected. I found it odd but maybe the company is that popular. There was also another location outside of the mall, in an area called the Market. The market is very similar to SoHo, only much more massive. The streets branch off into different side roads and alleys, all with varying shops. It is the main shopping center of the city. That is where I visited a HSBC branch to establish my bank account. HSBC happens to be the largest banking company in Europe. I did all of this before finally deciding to go grocery shopping. I spent much of the first week eating take out from various places. Quite interestingly enough, there is a Soho here in Birmingham. It happens to be an Indian community and where I grabbed my first take out meal. I ordered the china saag, spinach and chick peas. It was very delicious. There are no taxes when taking food to go. Whatever the price was quoted, that is exactly what I paid. I absolutely loved it and couldn’t understand for the life of me why the U.S. doesn’t do the same. Add the tax in the price and put that on the tag. There was something about actually seeing the final result that made me want to spend just a little bit more. Not that I did, but I recognized the psychology of it. A handsome idea indeed. I’ve also eaten a garlic spinach pizza from a vegetarian pizza spot just a ways walk from my door. To my surprise, the pizza industry seems to be ran mostly by Indian entrepreneurs. Some Pakistani even. It was decent tasting pizza but not like New York, and definitely not to the standards of Chicago.
My other roommates have arrived. One from Atlanta, one from Los Angeles, and two from small towns in England. It’s awesome to have such a wide range from the States, as well as two natives. We spend a lot of time breaking down the differences in our culture. From language to actual ways of life. In discussing politics, I’ve discovered ways in which they are much more progressive than the States, as well as the other way around. Their dearth of ammunitions is actually quite okay and lends to a very low violent crime rate. Yet, their sense of innovation is framed under the technological advances of the U.S. They consume American music and media. Where on the other hand, Americans know very little about what the BBC is producing. It’s beautiful to see so many cultural identities still intact, regardless of being in such a Westernized country. There is very little confusion. They are all British, yet the English know who they are, and the Irish know who they are, as well as the Scots and Nigerians, Ghanians, Indians, Chinese, Italians, etc. Birmingham itself looks industrial for the most part. City Centre appears very modern but the scenery shifts outside of that boundary. The city has seen better economic days. It is still the second largest in the UK as far as density is concerned. I have been told that the party scene is absolutely bananas. I haven’t experienced that yet, although I have walked through the district and seen the made up women walking on heels the height of stilts under neon lights, amid blaring pop music escaping into the city night. Until my next post…
Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video. Yessir.
A short film by a very young filmmaker out of the Tribeca teaching experience. Joy Sunday tells the story of a young Black girl struggling with an image issue in regards to her own hair. She questions what her teacher, as well as society, might consider beautiful hair to look like. Joy Sunday, A Nigerian filmmaker under the tutelage of Tribeca Teaching Artist, Nikyatu Jusu, brings to you Beautiful Hair.
Please watch and discuss.
I had an interesting text conversation with a beautiful friend of mine about the American made perception of beauty. She had shared a Youtube video of Dustin Hoffman being interviewed about one of his most famous characters, Dorothy Michaels from Tootsie. He touched on how seeing himself in the mirror while dressed in drag proved to be a heartbreaking image because he did not consider himself to be a beautiful woman. Through the character that he had created, he knew that Dorothy Michaels was an extremely interesting person but Dustin felt his character did not stand a chance of being picked up in a bar by Dustin based purely off of physical attraction. Basically, Dustin wasn’t attracted to himself in drag and would never have given the lady a chance to show how dynamic she truly was.
I was shattered. I was almost brought to tears. I connected with Dustin’s comments because they harkened back to a moment I had experienced in the club last weekend. It was a very short moment that I got over quickly because I needed to. I told myself that me being there was about having fun. Nothing more. So, this is what happened. I went to a party that attracted a huge showing last Saturday night. The social was called Grits and Biscuits. This party throwing crew is infamous in New York City, and slowly becoming so across multiple urban metropolitan centers. The DJ spins southern Hip-Hop and R&B all night long as the crowd loses about five pounds each from swinging, shaking, juking and popping. The floors are left moist from grease and sweat. It’s a party for the ages. I went with two male friends of mine. One being my best friend since I was five years old. We had a blast.
Thing is, I’m not the best dancer. I’d never lie to my Meekley readers. I dance. I enjoy dancing. But I do not have the most gifted feet in the world. I was born with the rhythm of my Irish ancestors and I’ve worked damn hard to at least hear the baseline. Needless to say, I am not the life of the party. I dance the least in my little crew of three. I have fun assisting my friends in their dancing endeavors. The ‘ole lean back Matrix dance move. Where one guy desires to be at an 180 degree angle as his female dance partner goes crazy on his groin area. That type of dancing. And the women were enjoying my friends. Pulling them this way, and that. Demanding a dance; in fact, not even demanding. Women would just approach my friends and throw their plump behinds in position. At one point, I excused myself to hit the restroom. When I got back to the dance floor, my two partners were no where to be seen. All I saw were dark bodies clumped upon one another. I stepped into the crowd and felt so alone. Not one woman pulled me to dance. Not one woman made a move to interact with me. I thought back to the last dance I did have. I recalled her appearing to be uninspired. I felt like an island. Like Hawaii stranded from the mainland. I resorted to dancing alongside the wall. Slowly bopping to the music in an attempt to fit in with the sway of the crowd. All the while, I’m scanning the entire floor for my friends. I wanted to belong to something again. Either that or leave. I did not feel attractive. I did not feel desirable. I wanted to run away and melt into nothingness. I attempted to get a number. I attempted to be suave. I failed. I went back to myself. That’s when I questioned myself and realized that I was honestly there to relish the night. So I remedied my vulnerability by enjoying myself.
Anyway, peep the video below. I really admire Dustin Hoffman’s sincerity. Please comment about your moments of insecurity. We can make this a love thy neighbor moment. Did you ever feel unpretty and why?
Last night saw one of the greatest games in NBA Finals history. Epic in every sense of the word. The aging, yet extremely talented and efficient San Antonio Spurs pit up against the seemingly demi gods of the NBA, Miami Heat’s Big Three. If it were written, the ink was of the pen of theater.
The Stage: Miami, Florida. Where the weather is scorching around this time of year. The humidity is suffocating. Not so much as New Orleans. But muggy yet enough.
The Players: Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Chris Bosh, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and…LEBRON JAMES. Basically, the Miami Heat versus the San Antonio Spurs.
The Stakes: Duncan’s final chance at gold against Lebron’s legacy. The NBA Championship Trophy. That huge golden ball. The title that has eluded some of the greatest players to have held a basketball: Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber…
I have spoken to several storytellers who chastised my love for the game. Their reasoning being a cloudy connection to odds that I have no control over. They say lovers of the game have an emotional connection to an activity that doesn’t affect their lives one way or the other. They did not understand investing time and energy to a cause that is judged for maybe being overpaid and overrated.
Overlooked is the narrative behind the sport. The game is directly linked to theater. From the days of the Roman Coliseum. Where gladiators took up arms in a battle to the death. The victorious ones would live on to fight another day. All in the sight of thousands. That was theater. We connect with that because life is full of its ups and downs. Its triumphs and failures. And come the end, no man knows the resolution to his story.
At the set of last night’s game, both teams began the evening with no points. The playing field was even as they lined up for the tip off. Thousands of fans in white cloaks cheered from all sides. Theater in the round. The ball ascended the air as the two tallest gladiators lifted off to retrieve it. The sphere fell into Miami’s hands first. They had their chance to open the night with the first two points. They squabbled it. The game then played tit for tat until Miami parted the waters by only a few points. They led that way for the better part of a quarter, until San Antonio had taken the lead by two. Then by five. Then cut down to three. Then overtaken, only to be returned. Both teams were competitors. There was no trash talk. Only brawn and brain. They respected the power of their enemy at play. The referees were the gods, controlling the tempo of every play. Much like the gods in Greek mythology and the Classics. Or like the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
At a point, San Antonio leads by 15 points. It looks as if Miami may have gone cold. It could be the end of a legacy at craft. The Big Three would perish in humiliation. They’d pale in significance. What would come of the Miami Heat? They would rally and rise up against the big Spurs. They chopped the lead down. Yet, the Spurs persistent and determined to end a long journey crowned champions stepped back up to the plate. They played a physical game and steadied a ten point advantage. As the town suffered, King James saw his throne fading in memory. He looked deep within himself and found the inspiration to lead his comrades to an advantage in the fourth. He played like God himself. Zeus or Horus. It seemed no one could stop him. The war torn faces of San Antonio hung weary. Duncan walked scoreless. Ginobili had hands made of butter. He practically gifted the ball to Miami at every turn. That is…until he created a surge from beyond the perimeter. The Spurs had one more run left in them and they dashed. Led by Tony Parker. At the end of the fourth, the Spurs were up by six with a minute left. It seemed the Miami Heat were mere frauds. The Big Three may have never been truly great. They may be marred in failure and disappointment. Fans of the team began departing before the minute played out. They’d rather beat the traffic then admit defeat. But…wait…WHAT! HO!
LEBRON JAMES!!! A three pointer! At this point, the Spurs were up five but cut to two. Manu Ginobili is placed at the foul line to turn the lead to four. He MISSES THE FIRST! LO! The ball travels the court twice. Kawhi Leonard at the line. Again, with a chance to put the Spurs up by four. He also misses the first. Damn you be to Hell! Spurs up three. Well in the reach of a Miami save. Only seconds left to play. The perimeter must be protected. Damned the defender who leaves a man stray. Lebron pulls up to save the game and…he MISSES. CURSES!!! But yet…HO…Chris Bosh grabs the rebound. How did that occur? Tim Duncan on the bench you say? Spurs’ coach decided to defend small. A decision made for speed, I’m sure. However a fault it was. Bosh ships the ball over to Ray Allen, one who the world also knows as Jesus Shuttlesworth. Named from his starring role in Spike Lee’s He Got Game. More theater. This theater being on film.
The ball lands in the palms of what could be Miami’s savior. The Spurs look to their impending death! Tony Parker made a grave mistake. He gave Allen some room to breathe. What have you, sir?! Ray Allen pulls up…Jesus ascends to the skies…thousands of disciples dressed in white bear witness and yell…”He hath RISEN!” Tony Parker never contests the shot. He simply watches like the millions across the world who are tuned in live. The ball sails the air for what seemed like a century. I swear it be true that my great-great grandkids will survive its fall. God decides not to keep it. Let’s play on. Why end the game here when basketball is so much fun? And the net graces the presence of the great orange sphere. The rim hugs the ball like a fair maiden. They are one. You belong here, with us.
CONNECT! And this game was sent to overtime. In the end, Miami prevailed. They lived to see another game. Game 7. To be played Thursday. And I will be present to witness greatness. Because I am a fan of sports. AND…a fan of theater.
Let the church say AMEN.
Imagine the manifestation of a meeting between Mark Twain and Jay-Z. What would happen if Ernest Hemingway had an Arri Alexa? The Kings of Summer is what happens when cool meets good. The story, written by Chris Galletta, and film, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is a coming of age story in the most non-traditional sense. The Kings of Summer is about three male teenagers taking to a life, in the woods in an attempt to escape their domestic angst. Vogt-Roberts’ first attempt at a feature film is a grand success. What elevates the story is the sophisticated imagery crafted at the hands of commercial cinematographer, Ross Riege. Even in nature, Riege chooses to bring a contemporary flare to the way light is used on this canvas. This is the MTV age of filmmaking. An essence of cool must be composed alongside a Terrence Malick-like gaze upon the natural wild. And it totally works. The warms and cools are saturated. The frames are sped up to 48, and at times, even 64 frames per second to watch life occur in extreme slow motion. Dream sequences transpire with the assistance of CGI, but used sparingly. Who says a simple story has to be visually lame? To be cool is the appeal.
Even if so, Vogt-Roberts doesn’t ignore the heart of Galletta’s story. The question in the writing is…what does it mean to be a man? The answer is found in nature. It is the crux of American folklore, borrowed from the heartening pages of Mark Twain. Our three leads, Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and the show stealing Moises Arias, are all new-aged versions of Huckleberry Finn. Their assumed perceptions of the silliness in adults and the unjust life leads them on an adventure fit with the task of surviving with no rules. Actually, there’s always one rule in manhood, and that rule is to love thy fellow man. What happens when a fair maiden is pit between two friends and she has made her own decision and acted on her own desires? I remember a moment in my life when I attempted to woo a young lady in my 6th grade class. No matter how hard I tried, it became very apparent that she was attracted to my best friend. Nothing made that more obvious then a day when there was a huge storm. My friend and I walked to school and were both drenched by the time of our arrival. A group of students were huddled under an awning trying to keep dry. As my friend and I squeezed in with the group, the lenses of our glasses were fogged and perspired. The girl of my dreams broke through the middle of the wild horde and pulled the glasses from my friend’s face. She wiped them clean and placed them back on his face. Mine remained wet. In that moment, I knew he had won our silent competition. The Kings of Summer feels just as real as that moment. The performances are endearing, especially in a specific scene that really connects with the story I had just told. The comedy remains strong throughout, at most times carried on the backs of Nick Offerman and the unpredictable antics of Moises Arias.
The film does not come without its flaws. I’d say the discovery on how to execute the main character’s desire was a little sudden. Almost too easy. That aside, when our protagonists decide to act on that desire, the story takes off and never slows down enough to drop the ball. Everything seems to work out for our protagonists until a monkey wrench is thrown into the friendships. The arc for each of our characters work out beautifully. Albeit, the storyline makes it a bit difficult to understand the exact passing of time. Our young characters growing five o’clock shadows is hilarious, but gets to be a bit confusing. It seems they’ve been missing in the woods for months, when in actuality, it’s been a couple of weeks. Vogt-Roberts tries to walk the fine line of small town storytelling and surreal Black comedy, and it works for the most part. At other times, not so much. A major flaw in my opinion, is the inclusion of most of Vogt-Roberts comedic cameos by Hannibal Burress, Kumail Nanjiani, and Tony Hale among others. They are all funny, but in this movie, it all seems like random favors for personal friends. The familiar faces with no actual character behind the roles diminishes what’s at the heart of the story. This happens often enough to note. For example, a diversion occurs with one of the main cops on the investigation. He has a scene where he hallucinates Biaggio getting into his head. Totally unnecessary, weird and just about the least funny thing that happens in the movie. Yet, Vogt-Roberts seems to seamlessly find his way back on track.
Nick Offerman gives a loaded performance. His character has Offerman’s usual brand of deadbeat comedy, but unlike his role in Parks and Recreation, Offerman’s hard knit shell is finally cracked and the audience sees the vulnerability he hides in the comedy. Offerman plays a man that hides a deep pain from the passing of his wife in a lot of sarcasm. One of the most touching moments of the film is when Offerman asks the always amazing Alison Brie if he’s a bastard. You totally get it in that one moment. He hasn’t felt like a complete man since the death of his wife, and now, he’s faced with the challenge of teaching his teenage son how to be a responsible man. Furthermore, Offerman’s character, Frank, is trying to get back on the dating horse again because life must go on. None of this is spoken. It’s all said in the performance. It’s all in the breakdown Offerman has while irrationally debating how large the wontons in Wonton Soup should actually be. Like Moises Arias, Offerman is also a show stealer. Alison Brie, no matter how great she is a performer, is given little to actually work with here. She plays our lead’s older sister, and Offerman’s eldest child. She brings her ever desperate boyfriend with her for a family visit and the cliched desperation of the daughter’s love interest trying to win the approval of said daughter’s father sort of crowds Brie’s shine. Eugene Cordero plays Paul, the boyfriend. He’s hilarious but totally unnecessary. He doesn’t elevate the story. He simply helps to create awkward moments where you may laugh out loud, but you may also very well forget a week later. The crime that The Kings of Summer commits is possibly allowing us, the audience, to forget that Alison Brie has an important role in the film. She helps in the search and helps Offerman realize his missteps, but all in all, she even becomes inessential. There isn’t much that her character gains from the disappearance of her younger brother, Joe Toy (Nick Robinson).
Other than that, Kings of Summer is a beautiful movie. The story is compelling and instantly relatable. The visuals are stimulating. Vogt-Roberts is able to play the natural and the psychological with much ease. The comedy is rarely forced and very much aware of itself. Everyone involved knows what’s funny and are professionals at knowing how to be funny in the right moments. They also know how to be sincere in every moment. I truly recommend this innovative take on a classic American theme. The characters have a lot of life. The woods becomes its own character and with much respect. Its beauty breathes. Its inhabitants have character, especially the copperhead snake. You’ll see when you watch. The Kings of Summer is Huckleberry Finn meets The Jungle Book meets Spike Jonze meets Hip-Hop and MTV. And everyone gets along like cake and pie at Ms. Ceal’s house. Absolutely breathtaking.