Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Goodbye, Sascha

Wesley from Cape Cod with his first piece of art
(Joey Kulkin photo; read more on Stella (here)

BENNINGTON -- I just sold my dream girl to a homeless man.

Wesley bought "Sascha" today, a great sale on a weird day. It's the first piece of art Wesley's ever bought and it's going to be the prettiest thing in the construction worker's dwelling.

"The colors -- the blue and white" is one of the reasons Wesley bought the oil painting by Stella Ehrich of North Bennington. But let's be honest about the real reason: Wesley bought Stella's piece because of the girl in the wedding dress. "She's gorgeous," he said. "Striking."

She's gorgeous. Striking. It's same reason I fell in love with the painting 400 days ago, why so many Fiddlehead at Four Corners customers love the painting, why I tell customers who stand in front of it "Can I borrow twelve hundred and fifty bucks so I can buy it?" They laugh. I laugh. It's my Sascha shtick.

Sascha radiates so much innocence in this painting; the innocence of a young woman about to give herself away to the man of her dreams; these last few hours of individuality; I used to be a little girl, she's thinking, and now I'll spend my life with him, forever; the innocence in the way she looks down; and the way she rests her toes on the floor, knees pointed inward. Structurally, her collarbones are perfect. And 34-B, just right for me. Without ever having told Stella, she painted my dream girl.

She painted Wesley's dream girl, too.

This morning I woke up and thought about which menorah we'll use for the second night of Hanukah tomorrow. Joel, Nina and I have tried to think of a Thanksgiving menorah hybrid because Hanukah and Thanksgiving overlap tomorrow night. First time ever. We've brainstormed a few funky ideas but haven't put any of them into real motion.

This morning I thought about Steph Davidson's menorah made of marble ...

Joey Kulkin photograph

... it sits on a table in Joel and Nina's dining room, in front of a female torso carved from marble, another one of Steph's masterpieces. The modern-day Michelangelo and his wife, Graham, a Picasso for our generation, died 3,738 days ago in a car crash. They were expecting their first child. So for all of the ideas about a turkey-menorah -- drilling holes in the legs and putting a candle in each one, which works out great for the second night of Hanukah -- I think we knew we'd be using Steph's marble menorah.

That's why Steph was on my mind this morning.

For the next several hours, Air Lift was on my mind.

I'm working on a story about Air Lift, the 2-year-old chestnut colt -- son of Bold Venture, full brother of Assault -- 64 years after his one and only race at Jamaica. He didn't finish the 6th race on July 27, 1949, because he broke his leg at the 3/8th pole and was destroyed minutes later. W.C. Heinz witnessed Air Lift's death and wrote, on deadline, what some consider the greatest newspaper sports story (here).

Sixty-four years later -- August 12, 2013 -- I was the first person to produce results from that race. But there's one more thing I want to do to update the story, and so for a week I have worked like a dog, phone calls and emails galore, trying to track down something that would make the story unique. But finding that something has become a struggle of struggles and by 2 this afternoon I was a frustrated motherfucker.

Then a guy walked into the gallery. Not the kind of fella you typically see in an art gallery. Short at about 5-7 and muscular, like Steph. Looked like he'd just come from the stables, what with knee-high rubber boots and a 5 o'clock shadow that was much closer to midnight. Sweaty. Grimy. If you squinted just right, as I did, he looked like Steph, the only difference being Steph always wore an anvil-goatee. Wesley is from Cape Cod. Steph grew up on the cape. So this was a weird -- and great and much-needed -- kind of thing taking place.

He plotzed about the gallery for 10-15 minutes then walked to the counter. He asked me a question that got my attention fast. He asked about one of Stella Ehrich's paintings -- "the one with the girl" -- and here we go. After a big-ticket sale slipped through my fingers last year I vowed never to let anything get in the way of a big sale again. And that's why Wesley walked out of Fiddlehead with Sascha.

For a few moments I'd forgotten about Air Lift. Selling this kind of piece gave me a lift.

Wesley works for an environmental firm and is in the middle of a big construction job in Bennington. He came to the gallery 3 months ago and fell in love with Sascha at first sight. He came back last month to see if she was still here. What's funny is that I don't remember him and I pay attention to everyone who walks through the doors.

Wesley returned today. Big payday. Time to buy his dream girl. My dream girl.

"Have you ever bought art before?" I asked while wrapping the painting.

"No," he said, "it's my first piece."

"Where's it going to go in your home?"

"I don't know -- I'm homeless," he said. "Right now I live in a trailer."

And I'm back on Air Lift's trail.

There's a hole on the wall now like there's a hole in my heart.
Goodbye, Sascha.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tom Freeman Presents: "Zu Life: Breaking the Cage"

Zu Life with a model (Photo by Devin Wade)

BENNINGTON -- The subject of Tom Freeman's documentary "Breaking the Cage" is a rehabilitated urban statistic by the name of Zu Life who went to prison at the age of 17 for carjacking and paid the price for 9 years. He won his freedom 14 months ago and went home to Burlington, New Jersey, to begin a career in hip-hop.

Can that be any more cliche?

In seeking publicity, Freeman provided a 10-point brief about the documentary, which he wrote and produced. It hits the big screen at Loews Theater in Cherry Hill on December 5.

1. Success story -- went to college a month after serving 9 years in prison (graduated in September)
2. Real life events -- shares the true horror stories of prison life
3. Therapeutic to gang members, young people in general
4. Touches several real life issues in urban community
5. Entertaining. Zu Life is currently one of NJ's hottest new rappers
6. Thought provoking -- raises and answers questions concerning judicial system and department of corrections
7. Revolutionary -- Hardcore Trenton gang members discuss meeting Zu Life in prison and falling in love with the music and the person
8. Family oriented
9. Inspirational -- Started a non-profit from a jail cell and followed through with his plans
10. Local -- He's from a small town in New Jersey and this has never been done before! Independent documentary on the big screen! People from all walks of life gravitate towards the movement.

Pursuant to those bullet points, here is Kulk's Q&A with Zu Life -- born Jay Sykes.

His answers are anything but cliche.

Q1: What were you convicted of? How old were you? Did you care that you were going to prison or was it a badge of honor? Congratulations on graduating college! (which one?). But, and not to be negative, why are you rapping? You have a college degree now. Seems so cliche to do the prison/rap thing. What are your dreams and goals outside of the entertainment industry?

A1. Carjacking. 16 when charged 17 when convicted. Yea I cared it wasn't a badge of honor. Institute of Audio Research NY,NY, certification in studio engineering/audio recording, I'm rapping because it's a gift I've had since a child. It was always a dream of mine to pursue music and entrepreneurship in entertainment. My dreams and goals outside of the entertainment industry are to provide opportunities in self-employment and entrepreneurship to people who share similar stories, or come from similar backgrounds as myself. My vision is to foster peace by educating, assisting and helping to develop at risk communities through our non-profit organization Hotep Inc.

Q2: What are some "true horror stories" of prison life? What are the 3 worst things you experienced?

Tom Freeman appeared on Trentonian TV
about 18 months ago (here)
A2. Police Brutality (Corrections officers), severe and inhumane punishment. (Solitary confinement for years at a time), harsh realities of gang life. (Being Crip in a prison system where 80% of active gang members are blood)

Q3: How so? Because this sounds like a cliche.

A3. Therapeutic by providing solutions to problems that have plagued our communities for decades. Particularly in New Jersey, gang violence was the leading cause of death for African-American males between 16-35 from 2000- until. And gang violence was no different inside the penitentiary system. Through music I was able to cross barriers and bridge gaps that seemed to be nearly impossible to accomplish. My story is a testament on how to find positive solutions to detrimental problems within our culture through peace.

Q4: Again, a cliche. Rappers have been singing about the hood for 25 years, hell almost 30 years. I listened to Slick Rick talk about the hood in the '80s with "Children's Story" ... Then there was KRS-1 breaking it down succinctly (here) ... So again, why is this generation any different? I thought this was the most thought-provoking rap and video ever made, with one of the great lines from Kool Moe Dee: "I never ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan and I shouldn't have to run from a black man." (here) ... So, how are you and your peers "touching" on the same issues in 2013 that the rap/black community touched on in 1988? After 25 years, don't you think you need to do more than just touch on an issue? What are you doing to change the culture?

A4: Since 1988, not only has the culture of music changed, but the culture and consciousness of African people as a whole has changed as well. In 1988 these hip-hop artists that you've named weren't in control of their art form and therefore couldn't truly be lucrative from their messages. In time, the messages changed and the art form was lost in almost totality when the objective became more about profit than artistic expression. On top of all of the major crisis' that has sky rocketed statistically in urban communities since the 80's, (Drug Infestation, Poverty, Staggering Incarceration Rates, Homicides, etc) as a reflection of the music the urban communities have been in a steady decline as well. More and more in this 'Information Age" that we're living in, the music industry as a whole is changing. More artists are seeking entrepreneurship and creating innovative ways to generate revenue from their music. Also, within the communities, more and more solutions to problems that once held us bacc are starting to manifest into existence. My story is nearly an example of how things that once seemed impossible can now be seen as attainable. And how unfortunate circumstances can be looked at as blessings in disguise.

Q5: Until I hit play on this 50-second clip I'd never heard Zu Life. You sound a bit like Tupac. Who are your influences? Have you ever listened to rappers pre-2000?

A5. Any rapper with a background of gangs, incarceration, and street life, with social, political, and spiritual consciousness is always compared to Tupac lol. I like a lot of Pac songs, but I don't know his catalog entirely. I was also musically influenced by Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Nore, DMX, Mobb Deep, MOP, Snoop, Dr. Dre, Eminem, and countless others. I was a hip-hop head growing up and I started rapping at an early age and excelled at it. Outside of music I was influenced by my family, Noble Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey, Ivan Van Sertima, Cheik Anta Diop, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Malcom X, Stanley "Tookie" Williams and many more.

Q6: How so? What kind of statistical data will you present? Who did you interview?

A6. I provided statistics on the juvenile incarceration rates, percentages and ratios of blacks to whites incarcerated with both juveniles and adults, etc. I also interviewed correctional officers and former inmates. As well as raised issues on the conditions of prison, the mistreatment/injustices within the department of corrections towards inmates, and the recidivism rate within the state of New Jersey.

Q7: So they're basically slurping you?

A7. Not funny at all, bro. And no they're not "slurping" anybody. They're telling their stories about juvenile incarceration, excessive sentences, and HARSH realities of life inside of New Jersey's Dept. of Corrections. The circumstances of how some of us met are at times breath taking. You'll hear stories of people finding companionship and forming bonds where under any other circumstances, these tasks would have been impossible. Friendships formed amongst chaos, understanding established amongst confusion, and hope, respect, and common ground found through music. All for the same cause, PEACE.

Q8: Define "family oriented." How many guns appear in this documentary? How many bottles of liquor? How many children are shown reading a book?

A8. Now you're just being close-minded, stereotypical, ignorant, and disrespectful, but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt because you're used to dealing with lames, frauds, and "arm chair revolutionaries" in this nut ass society we live in lol. But nonetheless I'll be as real as possible with you, because I'm serious about what I do. NO, there is not 1 gun shown in this film. NO, there is no liquor displayed in this film. Actually, through our nonprofit organization, Hotep Inc., we show the various ways we are being a part of the solution to the problems that plague our culture and communities. The documentary shows positive transformation within 1 person that influenced his peers, his family, his community, and ultimately his state. It shows my vision of what I consider "Breaking The Cage".

Q9: What is the nonprofit? What were the plans and how did you follow through?

A9: Hotep Incorporated is an education nonprofit organization founded by myself and two other close friends that I've met through my journey within the penal system. We were passionate about our culture and the issues within society and our communities. We would always study and discuss ideas on how to provide solutions to these problems. Discussing these ideas got the attention of another friend who suggested that we get a 501 c 3 and bring some of these ideas into fruition. In May, 2012 after years of education, studying, research, building, and planning, Hotep Inc. was established. Our purpose is to foster Peace through educating, assisting and developing at risk communities, by way of Education/Financial Literacy, Vocational Training, and Ex-offender Re-Entry Programs. As soon as I returned to society I formed my Board Of Directors, established our vision, mission, by laws, and called our first meeting. Since then we've done several fundraisers, established a summer program for the youth (Friday Night Live, sunday kickball games, teen summits, introductions to business, cultural awareness, etc..) We've donated to other charities and have been a constant positive presence in our community since we've been established. Not too mention I've been on parole 1 year and already completed school, got a job in the field I studied, got a drivers license, started establishing credit, put out a mixtape, several videos, packed several big show venues, clubs, etc., been on several radio shows, done collaborations with many established artists, etc.. I make every parole appointment, never got a dirty urine, or had any other altercations or incidents with any law enforcement. And now I'm premiering my documentary in Loews Theater.

Q10: Honestly, is this just a promotional video to sell a few CDs, to make up for lost time?

A10: Listen Joey, this isn't a joke, game, fad, or gimmick. This is my life. This is my story. This is one story that many people can relate to. This is a movement that can potentially move mountains. This story needs to be told/shown to the world. How many of us are forced to live in, or intentionally place ourselves, in CAGES? Whether physically or mentally the majority of people in society are in some form of a cage and many of us can't find a way, or are AFRAID to find a way to BREAK it. This documentary is bigger than music. This documentary is a piece of a portion connected to a universal movement, and that movement is PEACE. This is my attempt at BREAKING THE CAGE.

Bonus Q: Explain how it feels to be "caged" as a black teen into his 20's. How did it make you FEEL every day? Day after day. Year after year. Take away all of the hip-hop, the nonprofit, all of the extracurriculars. What does freedom feel like one year after getting out of the cage?

Bonus A: To have your freedom taken away is something I wouldn't wish on any man. To have your freedom taken away as a teenager, that feeling is indescribable. Prison is a world within a world, a society within a society, with its own set of rules followed by all kinds of hardships and trials to face along the way. I went from a stage of denial, to a state of shock, to a deep depression, to numbness, to resurrection, to a divine and spiritual journey of knowledge, education, reflecting, understanding, and building. I was blessed to be around positive and spiritual people. People who shared similar stories as mine that I grew bonds with. These people grew up with me and helped me become a man. I was fortunate enough to be around people who motivated me to want to progress in life. People who pushed me to write music and perfect my craft. I was also blessed to have a support system throughout my journey of family and friends who wanted the best for me and believed in me.

I've been to every prison in the state of New Jersey, including the segregation units. I've been in administration segregation units (The Hole) for months, years at a time. I've been in the security threat group management unit "Gang Hole" (and completed it). I've seen and went through a lot of things throughout my journey, but I never lost faith in God. I don't know where I found the strength sometimes, but through prayer (meditation), reading, studying, exercise, and, writing I became stronger. Prison went from being like Hell to being a Universal Learning Center. It taught me patience, discipline, history, culture, and so much more.

A year out and I feel blessed. I thank God for another day and I try to live in the moment all while pushing towards my goals. Honestly, at times I still feel stuck in a cage. Adjusting to a world in 2013 has its ups and downs. Fortunately I have a good support system that helps me when I have difficult times. I try to enjoy the life of freedom as much as possible but my mission always plays in my mind. Everyday someone comes home from where I just was, but they all don't know how to rap. Most people don't have a support system at all. This is why so many of us die or go bacc to prison. I cant forget my mission.

7. Stick to the Eyes Next Time

(Lyrics, photo by Joey Kulkin)

Stick to the Eyes Next Time

A nose is a nose is a nose, is a rose

And so I spoke of her nose.

But then she got mad
at my words that were bad?

Emotions that followed were rancid and sad.

Really, all I meant is that her nose was my rose.

Clearly I chose the wrong verbal prose.

'Cuz her nose was my rose,
yet was I scorned like a thorn
no longer adorned
like love
when it's borne.

Her nose was my rose.

Love wilts,
I suppose.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Election Night Pizza in America

BENNINGTON -- Election. Night. Pizza.

Those 3 words cause Pavlovian responses in newsrooms across America and thanks to the Internet we get to see what such responses look like in real time.

It's 6:46 as I type these words so the night's still young in newsrooms. Indeed, thousands of pizzas will be arriving for the next several hours. I'll post more later or tomorrow and hope to reach 100 pizza pictures; then again, there might not even be 100 newsrooms these days; wouldn't be surprised if newspaper bosses even paid for Election Night Pizza anymore.

One night in Roswell I took a whole pizza for the sports department. I was the department so you can imagine why a few newsie eyes rolled. That might be the funniest thing about Election Night Pizza: watching territorial news-side putzes sneer as the sports department joins the party and devours several slices in one fell swoop. Good times.

Anyway, here's an early gathering of pizza (and grinder!) photos via Twitter and Instagram. What does your newsroom spread of pizza and soda look like at 7 o'clock?

Here's ralefever from York:

Not only is there #electionday pizza there is election say cheesy bread! #yorkvote

@LarryRyckman of the Denver Post:

Poor girl:

Here's @nicholashuba's Instagram post: Election night means 2 things democracy and pizza, a newsroom tradition. #njelection #reporterproblems

The injustice! Angela Hong has to eat a grinder. First-world problems, indeed:

It's 2 hours later, 6:42 in the p.m., and I see no Daily Freeman pizza, Ivan.

UPDATE: Google Glass Pizza at the Daily Freeman!

Monday, November 4, 2013

6. Kay

Joey Kulkin photo and lyrics circa '98


I asked her to marry me
soon as she woke
big blues opened wide
Kay thought it was a joke
But why would I joke
about forever like that?
I’d never screw around
with forever
like that

So I asked Kay again
for her hand
and a life
I asked Kay again
to stand proud as my wife
We’ll laugh and
we’ll dance and
naked we’ll prance
signature vows
in the south of France

I hope Kay says Yes
Please, Kay, say Yes
20 seconds have passed
here comes the stress

My Kay love said No,
said no to my hand
and now I’m alone
in a god-awful band

Here was a girl
who slept in my bed
then rejected my hand
and ruined my head
Here was a girl
who slept in my bed
then rejected my hand
and ruined my head

Kay smiled and
Kay grinned
but by now
Kay had sinned
a future with Kay
on forever I pinned

Kay told me I’m sweet
that I was The First
but what does it matter, Kay,
my bubble’s been burst

Kay’s lips quenched my thirst
her heart pure and true
but at that point
I had no idea
what to do

Here was a girl
who slept in my bed
then rejected my hand
and ruined my head

rejected my hand
and ruined my head

Kay turned down my hand
on that morning of dread

Friday, November 1, 2013

5. Fouled in the Act

(Joey Kulkin photo)

Fouled in the Act

I've been outscored 9-0
to start the quarter
but I'm going to rally, yo

dribble-drive the floor,
penetration galore,
elevation and

Ain't no need to fake the funk.

Hoops like love
a game of runs;

9-0 to start the period;

17-2 in response;

and we're tied at the half, yo.

Hoops like love:
power jams and
power plays
lovin's great but
will we stray?

I've gotta make a 10-0 run
or the game
like us
is lost

Game's in the refrigerator
the door is closed
the light's out
the Jell-O's a-jiggling &
the butter's getting hard

no fun.