O.k., I've got to give you the six degrees of separaton on this one. As frequent readers of my funeral blogs well know, I don't have to be acquainted with the deceased to attend their funeral. That being the case, my friend Natasha is cooler than a cooler with me and in turn her super sweet, pretty and smart daughter Ashley is too. "Chante" (don't know why - but that's just what I call Natasha) and I met several years ago at a job-related conference and after a very public head-butting we agreed to disagree. After running into one another a few more times we developed a very natural and easy rapport and I now count her among my nearest and dearest. I met a 16-ish Ash when Chante was being honored at a black-tie affair. She was her mom's escort and as Chante put it in her acceptance speech, her "God-send" who held it down on the homefront when her job called for late hours and travel.
Recently, a grown up Ashley worked with me at one of the sites I supervised for my hustle. Unbeknownst to me when I saw her, she was pregnant and I didn't figure it out until it was time for her baby shower! These youngun's and their baggy clothes...
On a hot, sticky Saturday night, Ashley's most adorable baby's daddy caught a coupla hot ones. Let's go to the funeral, shall we?
Lester M. McClease, Jr. (BAM)
Sunrise June12, 1982 - Sunset June 5, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
New Haven, CT
11a.m.: It's a partly cloudy, cool-ish June morning as I find a park behind the Elks Club on Dixwell Avenue. Unashamedly I invoked my right to use my mama's handicapped sticker with the rationale that ain't no body got no business being handicapped and going to a bar this time of the morning. I picked my way through the parking lot to the Morningstar Deliverance Church, a one-story white structure with lavendar trim which fronts Dixwell. Years ago whilst in high school, it was a newly built, state-of-the-art record store - that's right, I said record - owned by Jerry & Renee Greene's dad, Mr. Greene. Trust me when I tell you, back 'round 1975 it was the hotness! But then, New Haven was a pretty cool spot too. Anyhoo, fast forward 35 years and not unlike most mid-to-large urban cities, the City of Elms has lots of issues, not the least of which is the out of control black male shooting deaths. More on that in a bit.
McClam and Son(s) has the funeral, convenient - since they're like, a block away from the church. They could've left the limos in the lot and carried the casket down - I'm sorry, let me stop myself. Entering the church there's a gang of people hanging about in various stages of grieving. I pass a big'un weeping uncontrollably as someone tried in vain to console her. "Geez", I think to myself, "I haven't been to a crying/falling out funeral in a minute", go in, sign the guestbook and get at the end of the short viewing line. He's laid out in a beautiful ebony casket with a red caranationed 'BAM' spelled out on a diagnol, and a carnationed heart and matching cross anchoring the left and right of the bier. I read the banners streaming from the arrangements and paused when I read the one from his "loving wife"??? There was a cute picture of him and lil' Lester, I mean "Lil BAM", over another arrangement and a banner from Ashley. So Ashley's NOT the "wife", right? I'm just trying to make sure I've got everything straight. Dang, I haven't even sat down yet and my eggs are already getting scrambled. He looked like he'd been dead for a while. He was shot in the leg and head in, oh never mind - read the blurb from the local rag for yourself:
"By James Tinley, Register Staff
The West Haven man charged with manslaughter after another resident was killed Saturday night may claim the shooting was in self-defense, his attorney said Monday during his arraignment.
Joseph Vreeland, 19, told police he shot Lester "Bamboo" McClease during a struggle over a gun McClease pulled out during a drug deal gone wrong in a car in West Haven, according to a police report made public Monday."
So, he looks like what he is - dead for a minute. He was killed almost 2 weeks ago, after the state medical examiner got through with him and McClam did his thing and wait, is that a patched bullet hole in this kid's forehead? Make that a badly patched bullet hole. Oh damn - this has just officially become surreal and again, I haven't even found a seat yet. His long, thick dreds were neatly pulled up and back, rocking a casual off-white button down, probably True Religion, Black Label, LRG or whatever gear kids are wearing now, his hands swollen and waxen allllllmost folded over his girth. I prayed his soul would find rest with God and since I'd never been to a funeral for a young shooting victim I decided on my usual spot near the back on the end of the pew in case I needed to make a quick exit. The sanctuary being a decent size was beginning to fill in quickly with friends/acquaintances/associates/duns/dudes/boys/crew - "or whateva niggas are calling themselves these days" - to quote A Pimp Named Slickback. A crack-ish looking young woman wearing black hot pants, a black t shirt and a red knit hat pulled down over two weaved pony tails meandered back and forth looking for God only knows what. Money? That Shizzle?? The rest of her butt???
11:15am: The funeral procession comes in with Rev. Scott Marks, a self-anointed local activist leading the way. The trail of "family" is pretty long - somewhere in the middle I spot Ash and Chante. Ash has on a blouse and slacks, her hair to her shoulders and the baby-weight gone. Chante is wearing a sleek black dress, tall and model thin. Once everyone's settled in the pastor of Morningstar, Bishop Vincent Smith takes the podium and tries to get something started with the Vicki Winans version of "How I got over" on c.d. Two things: I just hate that song and the c.d. was skipping. All bad. In a church full of what most certainly were un-churched people, the "praise party starter" song fell as flat as - well, a fart in church. Smith kept up with the "C'mon let's give Him some praise! Say Amen! Say Hallelujah!" patter until it became obvious that this would be a tough room, gave up and moved on. The old and new Testaments were read by a middle-aged woman and a Minister Victor Smith was introduced for remarks. I think his name was Victor Smith, but since Bishop Vincent Smith has had a perpetual frog in his throat ever since I've known him he could've been saying Vincent Smith. Anyway, we'll just call him Rev. Smith. He had a slight West Indies accent and gave remarks of how he led young BAM to the Lord at about age 12 but had lost contact with him as he grew older.
11:30am: The acknowledgements and obituary were read (nobody but family got a copy I noticed) and sidenote: the obituary that was printed in the aforementioned local paper had nothing about a "loving wife" but the one now being read did. Hmmmm. The call was made for remarks/remembrances from family/friends/associates/crew etc. and the now standard admonishment to keep it at "2 minutes" - which hardly anyone ever adheres to. A young man dressed in jeans/T-shirt popped up and got straight to the point, saying he hadn't known BAM that long but found him to be a good guy who was always helping people and would do anything for you except he was never where he was supposed to be when he said he would be. His standard response to the oft asked, "Where you at?" was "I'm 2 lights away!" Many of the gathered laughed in recognition of the familiar answer. The young man's reflections and comments were genuine and, under 2 minutes. A gentleman who said his son was a friend of BAM's gave fatherly remarks. A tearful young woman said BAM was her "baby daddy's" good friend and how he'd bring her baby pampers. A neatly dressed young man boldly stepped to the mic and passionately made the following observation: "I see many of you here today are wearing buttons and t-shirts with BAM's picture on it - and that's nice. But how much more of an impact do you think it would have made on his life if when he was struggling in his lifestyle and trying to find a job and do better if when he stepped out of his house he saw all of you standing outside with the t-shirts and buttons with his face on it? You talk about 'riding' for BAM - what if you had lived and LOVED for him?" Point made and taken. I feel convicted and I didn't even know the boy. Many of us stood and applauded him as he made his way back to his seat. Rev. Smith is back and oddly he goes the militant route pointing out how BAM's shooter, a white fellow, has only been charged with manslaughter and has a $250,000 bond. How if "it was a black man who killed a white man he'd be charged with murder and have a $3 million dollar bond!!" Some in the crowd ate that up too - I personally thought it was in poor taste not to mention an unnecessary roiling of a crowd where some of them may be pre-disposed to violence and/or revenge. Bishop Smith in his remarks wisely attempts to put a positive spin on things by piggybacking off of the young man who besought us to "live and love for BAM". Except it didn't have nearly the impact. Let me just pause here and make a point within my perceptions to any who may be contemplating or are in ministry. Un-churched people (or "heathens" as they used to be more commonly known) can smell con, game, phony-ness a mile away. You will be much more effective in your witnessing to them if you JUST KEEP IT REAL. That means no coattail/jock riding, no plagiarizing other preachers (especially someone from t.v. - just cause somebody doesn't go to church regularly doesn't mean they may not be catching some T.D. Jakes or Creflo on cable...) and no testi-lying!! Ya got that?? Now, where was I...
!2:00pm: Bishop Smith announces that after the next song, the next voice we'd hear would be that of Rev. Scott Marks. And then the smooth, mellow sounds of Smokey Robinson drifted from the church's speakers. I was like, "wait a minute (in the Homer Simpson voice) - is that the song Smoke sang at Melvin Williams' funeral in 'The Temptations' movie?!?" Oh yes, it is. A young woman in a pew near the front of the church started sobbing, I looked around and many of the young men sat slumped forward with their heads down - the cool dude's way of crying but not really crying so you can't see them crying. Then a version of "Precious Lord" was played that I'd never heard. It sounded - Baptist-y - and a whole lot of people just got up and started walking back and forth. I can only guess they were going outside since this is a one-way in/one-way out church and the ushers had blocked off the side aisle closest to me for the videographer. People were walking up and down the center aisle so much I thought it was a runway or perhaps something really good was being given away outside! I saw Ash go by with the baby - understandable, he may need changing although he wasn't fretting.
12:15pm: Once the song was over and Marks took the podium he did ask that everyone take their seats. Good, then it wasn't just me that was being made dizzy by all of the back and forthness. I was starting to feel like I was at a Moroccan street bazaar where the only things missing were goats and snake charmers...Marks asked everybody to get up from their seats and go hug somebody you didn't know as he loudly proclaimed "He IS Lord!!" into the microphone. No problem since I didn't know a soul sitting anywhere near me unless you want to count the girl and her little one who sat next to me and offered me an IceBreaker breath mint, which I gladly accepted. I've sung at this church a couple of times and the sound system isn't that great so couple that with a guy who's a bit of a megaphone mouth and you've got some pretty bad surround sound. My ears started ringing and itching. Thank God I wasn't sitting right under a speaker. He takes his scripture from Romans 6 - I didn't hear what verse (I can't imagine why not) but it really doesn't matter since all I heard was him going on and on about his life experiences, his growing up, his dad's parenting skills, the old Fair Haven neighborhood he grew up in, the kid who always got him in trouble, etc. He did reference the "3 stages of death - the natural death, the spiritual death and the eternal death" which I didn't get or care about since I was good and bored by then. He started to expound on his theory but didn't take long to get sidetracked with another self-reference. Bottomline: Dude was all OVER the place. I get it that he was trying to grab/relate to the crowd but also bring a sense of spirituality to the eulogy but what was really needed was some focus and since I had to go back to work, I couldn't wait him out to see if it was forthcoming. After a about a 1/2 an hour of his verbal wandering back and forthness and me getting absoutely no sense that he'd be "bringin' it home" anytime soon (I mean how do you end a rambling eulogy?: "And then I found $5"???) I decided to roll out.
12:45pm: If I had the cure for drug/alcohol addiction I'd be Bill Gates/Oprah/Warren Buffet/one of those Saudi Sheiks all put together rich - for about 15 minutes before "they" put a hit out on me. "They" meaning the forces/entities/people who have made sub abuse counseling/rehabbing, pharmaceutical companies, drug lords, advertising agencies, General Motors and Mercedes Benz,street level drug dealers, DEA, ATF, the latest "Drug Czar", gun and tiny cellophane bag manufacturers, et al a living for so many years. Would it be worth it to get these young men to stop killing each other? This is very sad to me. I'm 51 and there's been a dearth of decent, working, normal, date-able men in my generation for YEARS. What will Ashley and the young women of her generation have to choose from if they keep killing one another in "wars" over what? A CORNER?
"Because you know if money was nothing, if there was no money and everything depended on your moral standards and the way you behaved and the way you treated people, we'd be millionaires. We'd be rich." Lesane Parish Crooks, aka Tupac Shakur.