A Belated Review of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1”



Like the previous film, “Catching Fire”,  I had been looking forward to this newest “Hunger Games” movie for a long time – a year to be precise, like everyone else who has been enamored with author Suzanne Collins’ tale of a futuristic dystopian world.

Being a fan of Jennifer Lawrence, who as Katniss Everdeen is the main antagonist who was involved as a tribute in the first two “Hunger Games” installments and serves as the face of the rebellion to overthrow the totalitarian Panem government in this latest go-around, doesn’t hurt either as (personal confession here) she is my current celebrity crush.

However, Jennifer is far from being the only reason that the “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” and its predecessors has held such an appeal to me.

As I watched the movie, directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) and written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, one word came to mind that described the whole thing:


How could it have been any other way when the plot involves a rebellion to defeat the Hitler-like Capitol President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) and create a new Panem whose districts are free of working as slaves and sending their children to participate in a contest where only one out of 24 contestants can come out alive?

This intensity especially comes out in the sometimes extreme post traumatic stress disorder that Katniss suffers from, as in the very first scene in the movie she is curled up in a little ball in a corner trying desperately to hold it together in the face of the horrors she has experienced in her two Hunger Games.

She is likewise understandably horrified when she returns to her District 12 to find it reduced to rubble from a Capitol attack with an overwhelming number of dead bodies left behind, which for sure will serve as another source of her PTSD.

And which is perhaps what I liked about this film the most as it brilliantly showed what more or less every war veteran from the current Afghanistan conflict to Vietnam and every war ever fought before that goes though.

It’s this PTSD that renders Katniss reluctant at first to become the “Mockingjay”, the symbol that Plutarch Heavensbee, the ex-head Hunger Games Gamemaker played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final role, wants her to portray.

But when she, along with her old friend Gale (Liam Helmsworth) and a camera crew, visit a hospital in District 8 – which right after she leaves is attacked and destroyed by Capitol bombs on Snow’s orders, and subsequently fights back by shooting a few bombers down with her bow – she realizes that she is sorely needed if Panem is to be free of Snow and the Capitol’s iron grip, shouting to the cameras that were filming the whole thing in giving a message to Snow:

“If we burn, you burn with us!”


The hospital patients and refugees of District 8 showing solidarity to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

The new character that got the most attention from me was the head military lieutenant to the president of District 13 – an underground stronghold and headquarters of the rebellion where Katniss, her family, and the other District 12 survivors end up after their home was wiped out – Alma Coin (Julianne Moore): Boggs, played by Mahershala Ali.

Ali did a great job serving as a sort of protector and source of calm to Katniss, which was previously Cinna the stylist’s role but as Cinna (who was played by Lenny Kravitz) was killed in “Catching Fire”, Boggs filled that task quite well.

My favorite scene?

When Katniss, Gale, and the camera crew led by Cressida (played by Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer) goes to District 12 to film some remembrances of what that place was like and Gale described the attack that took out their district and killed 90% of their population.

During a lunch break, one of the cameramen, an Avox – someone whose tongue was cut out by the Capitol – named Pollux (Elden Henson), asked Katniss by sign language if she would sing something as there were Mockingjays about and he wanted to see them mimicking her voice.

Katniss then proceeded to sing a haunting tune called “The Hanging Tree”, which to me sounded quite Appalachian in that District 12 was supposed to be where the rural mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky once stood.

Not only did that song convey a sense of home, it also became the anthem of the rebellion as we later see a big group singing it as they were attacking a dam.

But enough plot! I refuse to provide any more spoilers!

The acting was top-notch all around as always, but to answer the critics and public who are cooler to this movie than the original “Hunger Games” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” because they felt it was unfinished and other reasons…

Yes it seems a bit unfinished, but so what?

That was its intent as like the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series beforehand, the producers sought to divide “Mockingjay”, the third and last book in the series, into two films partly to make more money at the box office – that should be no secret – and partly because it was felt, I’m sure, that there was too much story to fit into one movie.

The Bottom Line For Me:

Like the previous two movies about this dystopian society and how one girl inadvertently becomes a leader and the symbol to overthrow it, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” and felt it equaled, if not surpassed, the other two films.

It did its job in that even though I know what happens due to my having read the book, I absolutely cannot wait for the conclusion of this saga, “Mockingjay, Part 2”, to appear in November 2015.

In fact, I liked “Mockingjay, Part 1” so much, like I did with “Catching Fire” I plan on seeing what’s undoubtedly going to be the box office champion of 2014 again in the theatre.

I suppose I’m being a bit obvious in my views when I state that I urge everyone to see it.

In the meantime, I thought I would post this YouTube video of “The Hanging Tree”, in order to show how good the song is:

UCLA FOOTBALL 2014: Thoughts on the Bruins’ 3rd Straight Win in the Crosstown Rivalry


I regret to inform all those students, alumni and fans of that crosstown private school rival of UCLA’s that your request to have this bell painted red (or, “Cardinal”) has been denied.

Bruin Nation will be keeping this bell, and it will remain blue.


UCLA WINS, 38-20!



All right, the 84th meeting of my college alma mater and their rivals from just south of Downtown Los Angeles is in the books.

Like all members of Bruin Nation, I was and am happily ecstatic that our school’s football team came through and showed once and for all who owns L.A. after what the South Bay Daily Breeze’s sports section called a “Crosstown Beatdown” in their 38-20 triumph.

The biggest impression that I gleamed from UCLA’s victory can be summed up in one word…


Meaning that after Brett Hundley threw that pick-six on the game’s second play and got the fans of that private school excited, neither he nor anyone else wearing blue and gold panicked or got down on themselves.

They merely answered back with not one but two touchdowns, and never trailed again.

In fact, I got a good feeling about UCLA’s chances when I noticed the entire Bruin team, before the opening kickoff, jumping up and down and basically going crazy on the sidelines in pumping themselves up to way past the moon, while their private school counterparts did nothing of the sort.

I have always taken the time to notice those sort of things as it tells me a lot of a team’s mindset and has always given me a good idea of who will win the game.

And I was ultimately proven right.

Everyone has said that Bruin linebacker Eric Kendricks’ interception in the second quarter with the game still close and that private school driving turned the game around, which I don’t disagree with, but there was one other moment in the contest before that pick that got UCLA going…

Nelson Agholor, the private school’s all-American receiver, muffing a punt with his team up 7-0 and giving the Bruins a very short field, which they took advantage of right away in scoring their first touchdown and tying things up.

That got UCLA in the game, and as it went on it was clear that the Bruins were doing exactly what I felt they needed to do:

1. Pressure Cody Kessler, which they did brilliantly as for the second year in a row, that private school’s quarterback was sacked six times.


2. Sustain drives on offense, which they likewise did a great job, especially in the second half when they got first down after first down, 24 in all.




The first of many celebrations from the Bruins during their battle with that private school


There were a couple of surprises that I saw upon entering the Rose Bowl on Saturday, the biggest one of all being that the end zones, which has long been a sea of red (or as those private school’s fans call it, “Cardinal”) and gold for this game, had many speckles of blue as the number of private school fans at the game was noticeably lower than in years past.

Which of course I was happily surprised about, but also puzzled as there was as much at stake for that private school as there was for UCLA, and that fan base of theirs always shows up in overwhelming numbers.

Besides getting the win, which enabled my alma mater to keep the Victory Bell – which is awarded to the game’s winner – painted blue, there was one other memorable moment that was, for me, my favorite one of the evening:

Sam Handler, a walk-on player for the Bruins who was injured, standing by the UCLA logo in the middle of the field in order to keep the drum major of that private school’s marching band (who wears a mini-skirt, by the way) from participating in a hugely obnoxious tradition of theirs – stabbing the logo with his sword.

The private school’s band director threw a hissy fit over it, and Handler was eventually escorted off the field, but he succeeded in what he set out to do:

Prevent that feather-helmeted drum major from disrespecting UCLA and the football field it plays on.

It was also great to see the private school’s students and fans heading for the exits at the start of the fourth quarter, essentially waving the white flag like they were the Confederate Army at Appomattox Court House with their beloved team down 38-14.

As much as I enjoyed beating that private school, as I always have as a Bruin, one thing kept me relatively mellow in my happiness and prevented me from doing any wild, over-the-top New Year’s Eve-style celebrating…

The thought of playing – and needing to win – one more game this Friday against another private school, which unlike the one crosstown I don’t mind mentioning their name in the slightest: 

The Cardinal of Leland Stanford Junior University.

I remember VERY clearly two years ago, when the Bruins beat that private school in the rain only to suffer a humongous let down against that Ivy League-type school from just south of San Francisco and lose, starting a three-game collapse which saw UCLA lose for a second time to Stanford and then get beaten up by Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

If that happens again, no member of Bruin Nation will be more disappointed than I.

Which is why I have devised a special 8-clap for our beloved football team, one which I fully plan to do throughout Friday:

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,  U…C…L…A… U!  C!  L!  A!  DON’T LET DOWN!!

Not that I expect a letdown from this team as with a 6-5 record, Stanford is not the same team as in recent years, but I’ll be honest – I’ll have at least a bit of anxiety to see how our team responds after such an emotional win over that private school.

If UCLA beats the Cardinal – which every Bruin knows will punch our ticket to the Pac-12 Championship Game – that will leave me happier than our win over the private school.

That’s all I have to say about that.

In the meantime, I’ll immensely enjoy wearing my Bruin hear this week.


Oh, just two more things…

Here’s one last shot of the Victory Bell painted in glorious blue:



And please enjoy, compliments of me, the highlights of UCLA’s 31st victory in Crosstown Rivalry history over that private school below:
















UCLA FOOTBALL 2014: My Predictions for the Crosstown Rivalry Game





OK, with 48 hours before kickoff at the Rose Bowl as of this writing, I won’t waste any time; here’s how I see the 84th meeting between UCLA’s Bruins and USC’s Trojans (the last time I mention that name in this post as per personal policy, they shall be referred to as “That Private School”) unfolding:


As I had stated in my preview of what is widely known as one of the nation’s elite rivalries, this year’s version of UCLA vs. that private school will feature teams that – at least as far as both player and team statistics – are VERY evenly matched.

In fact, it’s hard for me to remember a Bruin vs. the private school game that is matched up more evenly than this; not in a long time.

That evenness will show on the field this Saturday, particularly with regards to the offenses as while I don’t think it will be a total shootout a la “I went to a football game and a basketball game broke out”,  with one team scoring over 50 points and losing, both UCLA and that private school will get their yards and points.

Cody Kessler, the private school’s quarterback, has had a great season in that he has thrown for five or more touchdowns in a game more than once. I think he’ll have another good day, but won’t go off on the Bruins like he did against Colorado and Washington State.

In last season’s UCLA sacked him six times, which neutralized the passing game as it did in their wins over that private school in 2006 and 2012. I think the Bruins’ front seven – and their entire defense for that matter – has been playing better of late to the point where they will put enough pressure on Kessler to disrupt his throwing, which means that Nelson Agholor and the other private school receivers won’t have the gaudy numbers that they are used to.

I don’t see six sacks, but they will pressure Kessler and bring him down a few times.

They will have to in order to win the game and keep the Victory Bell, which is awarded to the winner, in Westwood and painted blue.

As for UCLA’s offense, like their defensive counterparts they have likewise been playing well of late, mostly because as opposed to earlier in the season when that unit struggled, Brett Hundley has done what has rendered him most effective; run the ball from the quarterback’s spot.

The offensive line, which I covered in savage criticism after giving up ten sacks in their loss to Utah, has improved as they have done a better job in protecting Hundley, which is another key to this game.

As I’ve mentioned, however, the private school player that the Bruins need to watch more than anyone else is a sophomore defensive back named Su’a Cravens.

Cravens’ 14 tackles for loss and five sacks on the year tells me quite plainly that he blitzes a lot; if he does that and gets to Hundley, it could result in some hero-making moments for the guy.

As such, I think UCLA will be aware of that and make sure he’s contained, which will better allow Hundley to run his plays and get the ball to receivers like Jordan Payton.

The running backs? Both of those featured guys, the Bruins’ Paul Perkins and Javorious “Buck” Allen from that private school, will get their yards and will likely go over 100 for the day; they’ve been too good all season not to.

If the game comes down to field goals – which games like this often does – it’s pretty even there too, though Bruin Nation has been holding their collective breath whenever Kai’mi Fairbairn takes the field.

His numbers (14 out of 18 field goal tries) are perfectly respectable, but he still retains an aura of inconsistency that his private school counterpart, Andre Heidari, doesn’t have.

Having said that, I think since Fairbairn, like the rest of his Bruin teammates, has performed better in recent games, I’m calling the kickers even.



A scene from the last UCLA game against That Private School in the Rose Bowl


All right, enough elaboration. Here’s the bottom line…

UCLA and That Private School will engage in a close, hard-fought battle that has a fairly good chance of coming down to the last play or a field goal try.

But because of two factors:

1.  The Bruins having the home field and crowd (yes, I know that the visiting team has won more than their share of games across the country  this year; as evidence of that, UCLA was 6-0 away from the Rose Bowl this season, but still),


2.  Brett Hundley, unlike Kessler, being able to run from under center and get much needed yards and scores in that fashion,

Here is my official prediction of the final score:





If the Bruins execute like I know they can, I’m quite confident that this prediction will come true and I’ll be one ecstatic Bruin at around 10:00 p.m. Saturday night.

For the time being , I hope all my fellow members of Bruin Nation enjoy this clip of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band:

















UCLA FOOTBALL 2014: My Preview of This Year’s Annual Crosstown Rivalry Game



UCLA BRUINS (8-2, 5-2 in the Pac-12, ranked 9th) vs USC TROJANS (7-3, 6-2 in the Pac-12, ranked 19th)

DAY, DATE & TIME:  Saturday, November 22nd, 5:00 p.m.

PLACE: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

TV: KABC Channel 7

ALL-TIME SERIES:  USC Leads 46-30-7 (Trojans vacated 2 wins due to NCAA sanctions, so it’s really 44-30-7)

LAST YEAR’S GAME:  Bruins won 35-14 

UCLA has won the last two meetings


Now that the essential information has been shared…

For the past six years, I have written a preview of what is without any doubt or argument the biggest single sporting event not only in America’s second largest city, but on the West Coast: the annual football game between my collegiate alma mater and their private school counterparts located just south of Downtown L.A.

Since I officially became a student at UCLA in 1988, I have seen this game in person 14 times; this will be my 15th viewing of what  I’m sure some folks call the “Crosstown War”.

I have witnessed both blowouts and close games were the intensity was so high on a pronounced scale, there were fights and near-brawls not only on the field, but in the stands.

And I, like all members of Bruin Nation, have felt the utmost joy after a win and enhanced despair after a loss in this “Battle For L.A.”

But enough of that…

Let me get to how these Bruins and Trojans match up:

It’s been a while since I have been able to say this, but after researching both teams and the statistics of the various players on both sides, this UCLA squad and their private school counterparts (like my previous post regarding this rivalry, from this point forward I will refer to the USC Trojans strictly as the “Private School”) are matched quite evenly, more so than in previous years.

Both teams have 1,000-yard rushers, with the private school’s Javorious “Buck” Allen leading the Pac-12 with 1,184 yards and UCLA’s Paul Perkins right behind him with 1,172.

The Bruins have more yards as far as total offense and have been more successful in the red zone (within the opponents’ 20-yard line), while that private school has been more successful on third down, both in converting them on offense and stopping the opposition from converting on defense.

The private school’s 235 first downs is only 12 less than UCLA’s 247.

Their 11 interceptions are just two less than the Bruins’ nine.

I think you can see where I’m getting at by now.

It’s only in number of sacks, sacks given up, and passing statistics where that private school has the clear edge, Cody Keesler having the season of his life with his 70.2% completion percentage, over 2,900 yards in the air, and 29 touchdown throws to go with his only three picks.

However, even with those gaudy numbers I still give UCLA’s stud quarterback, Brett Hundley, the edge for this simple reason:


Hundley can win games with his legs. Kessler can’t, as he is not a scrambler in the slightest.




The Bruin signal caller’s stats on the ground – 564 yards, a 4.2 yards-per-carry average, and seven touchdowns, good for second on the team after leading UCLA in rushing last year – are proof enough.

Meanwhile, Kessler’s ground numbers? MINUS 112 yards, no doubt due to sacks.

On the surface, the receivers’ comparison favors the private school largely thanks to Nelson Agholor’s 1,079 yards, with ten of his 82 catches going for scores, but Jordan Payton (58 receptions, seven TDs) and Devin Fuller (45 catches) haven’t exactly been chopped liver as the Bruins continued their emphasis on spreading the ball around in the air.

The defenses of these two 12 miles apart squads are fairly even too, the private school giving up 23.3 points per game with their Westwood counterparts’ 27.9 points given up per contest not at all far behind.

Everyone has been gushing about how Leonard Williams had been an extreme beast for that private school’s defensive line with his 62 tackles, 8.5 for loss and six sacks, but…

Bruin linebackers Eric Kendricks (114) and Myles Jack (69) both have more tackles than Williams and are not far behind with their six TFLs each; neither is UCLA’s Owa Odighizwa with his 7.5 TFL.

real key to the game is Su’a Cravens, one of that private school’s leading defensive backs.  Here’s why:

I saw on the private school’s statisticss sheet that Cravens had 14 tackles for loss and five sacks from the defensive backfield.

That means that he has been blitzing a lot, and UCLA’s offensive line need to watch for him going after Hundley as his exploits in the backfield could be a turning point in the game.

Like all games of this stature, it is often decided by someone’s foot.

And like more or less everything else, the two schools’ kickers have put up similar numbers as the private school’s Andre Heidari is eight -for-ten in three-point attempts while the Bruins’ Ka’imi Fairbairn, after hitting a mid-season rough patch, has made 14 out of his 18 field goal tries.

Kicking and punting returns? That’s likewise pretty even as Agholor has returned two punts for touchdowns while Ishmael Adams ran back a kick 100 yards against Arizona State.

After regurgitating all of those numbers, I’m now going to state what all of that will mean this coming Saturday at the Rose Bowl:




THE REASON:  Both teams are SO evenly matched.


I know it’s a complete cliche, and I’ve always thought of cliches as lame, but this is one time where this particular cliche perfectly applies:

In any rivalry game, you throw the records out as ANYTHING can happen.

Don’t get me wrong – like all members of Bruin Nation, I’m not only fervently rooting for a third UCLA triumph in a row over that private school, I see the Bruins doing just that and keeping the Victory Bell painted blue.

For predictions of how Jim Mora’s team will go about conquering new private school coach Steve Sarkisian’s squad, you’ll have to check out this blog tomorrow.

Where I will also have a score of the game, so be sure to be here for that.


In the meantime, please enjoy a video clip of last year’s Crosstown Clash, won by the Bruins:





















UCLA FOOTBALL 2014: My Personal Crosstown Rivalry Story


My former marching band, as they look today


November 14, 1988 (I think).

It was my first year not only as a UCLA student after transferring from a junior college, but my first year in the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, where I played the tenor saxophone.

As I was a longtime Bruin fan who was realizing my longtime dream of becoming a Bruin, I was excited about experiencing in person, for the first time, the rivalry that my institution of higher learning has with a certain private school located 12 miles to the east in Los Angeles’ inner city, having watched the two football teams do battle on TV since I was less then ten years old.

Not to mention seeing in person what I had been bragging about during my high school days as UCLA beat that private school in my 10th, 11th and 12th grade years.

A quick note before I continue:  I refer to the University of Southern California – USC – as a “private school” because it is. Those three letters put together will not be written again in this post from this point, nor will their nickname, the “Trojans”.

All right, now that that disclaimer has been taken care of…

I was riding with some fellow UCLA band members to the private school to partake in a flag football game called the “Band Bowl”, which the marching bands of the two schools have played in since the 1950s during the week of the “real” game.

It was usually held on the Sunday before, but due a prior commitment from the private school’s band, the game had to be held on a Wednesday night.

As I was and still am a big guy, I was going to the game as a member of the Bruin band football team but because I had fallen on a broken beer bottle and subsequently suffered a cut on the bottom of my toe that required stitches and a small cast, I was on the “Injured Reserve” list, so to speak, and was attending the game solely for moral support.

I was told by friends in the UCLA band about the evil nastiness that the private school band exuded with regards to us, but it was that evening where I would experience it face to face.

We arrived at the private school campus’ track field, getting off our yellow school bus (“Let’s go back to the 6th grade, shall we?” our captain quipped), and prepared to play the game, which much like our real football team with the full scholarships was important on a pronounced scale to everyone involved, on both sides.

The game begins, and we played very well; I believe we led the whole way and ended up winning 21-7.

It was during halftime that I saw, for the first time, the way that private school band acted like a combination of Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters and Satan-led devils…

After the private school band played – well, I don’t recall what they played but I do remember that it sounded rather bad – they turned around to face our side and screamed at the top of their lungs, with their middle fingers proudly pointed in the cool L.A. night…

“F*** the Bruins!!!”

While getting into our band’s faces – those who showed up to support us – with what I’m sure was their drunken breath, yelling various versions of “F*** You!”  for roughy 15 minutes until it was time for the second half.

Although I was on the other side of the sideline from that evilness, I’m sure that saliva from that private school band’s mouths found the faces of at least some of our band members.

There was one particular member of that private school band whose image I haven’t forgotten after more than 25 years – he had a long, scraggly beard that would be made popular by pro athletes today, who was obviously smashed on various liquors as his face was as red (or “Cardinal”, as they call it) as his school’s primary color.

I was surprised that he didn’t vomit on the poor Bruin band girl whose face he so obnoxiously got into; I believe she was a piccolo player who had brought a large Bruin teddy bear to the game.

Other hate crime-level deeds such as water balloons being thrown from a building that stood behind us which was intended to humiliate, which our band director chased away, marred the whole evening, which would have been a much more bitter memory if we hadn’t won the game.

As such, this was an annual tradition with that private school band, I would later find out.

But it wouldn’t be until 12 years later, having long since received my degree, when this private school bigotry would reach the last straw when – to make a long story short – UCLA’s instrument and equipment truck was broken into during a Band Bowl game on that private school campus, $30,000 worth of instruments, uniforms and other stuff were stolen and a tenor sax case, when recovered, had a “Stop Hate” sticker ripped off and replaced by, crudely written in black marker, the word “Jew”.

Sounds like Germany in 1938, don’t you think?

That solidified my dislike for that private school in South L.A. to nuclear-like proportions; not that is was much less to start with.

And because of that hate crime, which is precisely what it was, the Band Bowl has not been held since as the private school band’s leaders feared retaliation.

There are quite a few other incidents that occurred with that private school over the years since that day in 1988, some that directly involved me and some that did not, like that instrument truck incident.

However, If I discussed every one of those episodes, the size of this article would approach that of “War and Peace”.

So I’ll end this post with those two prevalent memories of the longtime animosity between the two major college marching bands that call America’s largest city west of the Mississippi River home.

As well as announce that my official preview of the big showdown between UCLA and that private school and a separate piece that will feature a prediction of the game, which will include a score, will appear on this blog later this week.

For the record, my preview of this 84th renewal of the Crosstown Rivalry will be on this site Wednesday, while I’ll give my prediction – including a score – in a post on Thursday.

I certainly hope you are all looking forward to reading what I think the keys to this game will be and how I see it unfolding…


What UCLA does to protect their Bruin Bear statue; because vandals from that private school have ripped this cover to deface the statue, thus committing a felony, it is now covered in a big plywood box.

An Update On My Health Issue and Musings on my Mortality





It’s been nearly a month since I took that trip to Kaiser Permanente’s emergency room due to the major squeezing sensation that the right side of my head was experiencing and the prickly “asleep” feeling in my right hand.

Nearly a month since the ER nurses and the doctor who treated me said that I sorely needed to lose weight, take the medication prescribed, and drastically change my diet.

Since I was understandably scared as I thought I was on the verge of a major stroke, I proceeded to do just that, taking the first dose of my medications upon arriving home that night and being diligent in taking those pills daily.

Not only did I proceed to completely overhaul my refrigerator, throwing away all of my hot dogs and lunch meats, which were high in the factor that’s a predominant cause of high blood pressure – sodium – I made a concerted point to look at the sodium content in anything I bought at the supermarket.

That meant having to give up many of the foods I liked to eat save for canned tuna and chicken, which I was OK with as perhaps for the first time, I took my food choices seriously in choosing to purchase carrots and celery rather than the ground taco-seasoned turkey and turkey kielbasa that I loved.

I also began working out like crazy, particularly in cardio as I began to ride a stationary bike and go on the stair master in the work out room in my condo complex’s clubhouse, go on runs and walk up hills around my neighborhood, increase my sit-up and abdominal crunches from between 1000 to 1500 to between 2000 to 2500 per week, and set aside one day a week to lift weights.

Not that I have been perfect as I did slip a little in my eating habits, snacking on potato chips which although they were unsalted, I shouldn’t have done.

Nor should I have eaten the chicken from my supermarket’s deli section as even though it was broiled instead of fried, I could taste the sodium in it.

Still, I wouldn’t have been honest if I said that I didn’t notice the radical changes I was making in my food and health lifestyle choices, thinking how different I was making things.

After stating all of this, you may be thinking that all of these changes have resulted in a complete bill of health, including a significant lowering of my high blood pressure and the end of the headaches and prickling in my extremities that go along with that.

Sadly and frustratingly, that’s not completely the case as despite everything, including my pants feeling noticeably looser…

Although the pressure sensation on the right side of my head is gone for the most part, different spots of my head continue to feel little pricks of pain and pressure from time to time, including a spot on the top of my head just last night, which coincided with prickling sensations in both my hands and feet.

Which – as you can figure – negatively affected my sleep and rendered me scared, praying to God for help and my life.

And this after I worked out for an hour and a half, including doing 40 minutes on the stationary bike and the stair master plus some weightlifting.

I know, because I was told this by another doctor a few years ago, that my high blood pressure is a genetic thing and is something that I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life; that’s why I wasn’t as frustrated as I could have been and have harbored no thoughts of giving up.


All of this has made think – seriously, for the first time – about my mortality.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a football game and for seemingly no reason, a part of Martin Luther King’s last speech before his assassination, the one about him going to the mountain top and seeing the Promised Land,  popped up in my mind…

“…I’d like to life a long time; longevity has its place…I may not get (to the mountaintop) with you, but I want you to know tonight, we as a people will get to the Promised Land!”

A couple of tears formed as I thought maybe God was telling me about some foreboding fate.

Or perhaps God was trying to give me some courage as King ended that iconic speech in Memphis, TN with the words…

“I’m not fearing anything, I don’t fear any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not considering stopping this commitment to taking my medication, working out, and making better food choices as I fully intend to keep up with it and do what’s necessary for my health.

Like more or less everyone else, I want to live a long time.


The thought of “What if this ultimately doesn’t work and you have a fatal stroke anyway?” has crossed my mind at least a few times.

I know that due to my genetical disposition to having high blood pressure, that may not be conducive to me living long enough to be an old man, as much as I’d like that to happen.

I remember this girl I went to school with, who I not only had known since the 7th grade, I was in the school band with her throughout junior high and part of high school. I saw her at my high school’s 25-year reunion, she looked good and was doing well with her life.

Then not three weeks later, I got the news that after attending a Los Angeles Dodgers game, she went to bed and never woke up, dying that night; I was told later that she had a defective heart, which no doubt killed her.

The point I’m trying to make is, one never knows when your number comes up, so to speak.

And the older you get, the more prevalent that sentence becomes as opposed to when you’re in your 20s and the concept of death is much more abstract and “a million years away”.

If I said that passing away doesn’t scare me, I’d be lying like a rug for this one simple reason:  I don’t want to die.

That’s honestly a significant factor in my working as hard as I am on my health.

In other words, it’s my job to get my blood pressure down as much as I can and my weight down, period.

Theer’s frankly nothing more for me to say about this issue of mine, except for these things:

1.   That I’m going to keep up with these changes I have made and keep battling.


2.  I’d very much appreciate it if you keep me in in your good thoughts.














Being “Black Enough”: What Does That REALLY Mean?



I recently read an online article written by an African American male – I forget who it was or what website it was on – that tackled this very subject.

The guy who wrote the piece was lamenting his conviction that because he wasn’t “ghetto”…

Because he didn’t speak in Ebonic slang,

Because he consistently achieved good grades and accolades in school and in college,

Because he is making good money in a  professional career that doesn’t involve sports or entertainment and is subsequently living a middle class existence,

And because he was never in a gang, arrested or incarcerated,

Some of his fellow blacks see him as not being “Black Enough”.

A “Sell-Out”.

An “Oreo”.

Indeed, former NBA star Charles Barkley concurred with this sentiment when he stated in an interview:


“We’re the only ethnic group that says, ‘Hey, if you go to jail, it gives you street cred’…For some reason we are brain washed to think if you’re not a thug or an idiot, you’re not black enough. If you go to school, make good grades, speak intelligent and don’t break the law, you’re not a good black person…we all go through it when we’re successful.”


This hit home to me in a significant way because like this article writer, I never spoke in a “ghetto” slang, nor did I ever come close to gang-banging  or serving any time.

My educational career was a very good one, at least academically (more on that in a bit), as my grades ranged from good to excellent throughout my time in school from the early elementary days right on through the post-graduate level; as an example of this, I remember winning an essay award in the fifth grade and getting a medal and my picture in the local paper.

Indeed, if forced to name my number one life accomplishment it would be getting a college bachelor’s degree – two if you count the honor’s degree I earned from the junior college I attended due to a few bumps in the road that I suffered in high school.

Most unfortunately however, I caught hell from quite a few of my black peers during my elementary school days not only due to my school success, but also due to these factors:

1. As I lived in my town’s version of a low income, inner city area, part of the black youth culture there dictated that you had to able to fight to show how “tough” you were; the better you threw fisticuffs, the higher your “coolness” factor was.

Quite simply, I didn’t like to fight. That earned me the moniker of a “Mark”, complete with many incidents of taunting and bullying.

2.  Until around age 11, I wasn’t too good in sports, which in the black inner city youth culture was a crime punishable by social death, earning me continuous taunts of being a – pardon the expression – “Sorry-ass mother fucker” and only strengthened my “Mark” reputation, which didn’t end when my athletic skills improved.

3.  Because my family didn’t have that much money, unlike many of my young African American peers I wasn’t able to dress in the latest “fresh” and “hip” styles of the day, having to wear cheap jogging shoes and flooded “Toughskins” bell bottoms (it was the late 1970s and early 80s) instead of Nikes and Levis.

Which didn’t help my cred any, nor was the fact that because of my having Asperger’s Disorder, I showed no interest of fitting into that culture, preferring to do things differently.

Because of all of this, the most prevalent derogatory name I was called in those days was “Goofy Mark”; I even remember being called the name of that famous Disney dog once in college and having some kid taunt and yell  “You act White!” at me during my twenties.


All right, here’s the point I’m trying to make…

I’m in complete agreement with Charles Barkley in the sense that in my view, the worst problem in the African American community is the resentment that successful blacks feel from at least some of their less fortunate peers, as if doing well in school, being in a lucrative career that doesn’t involve a ball or a microphone and having never committed a crime is a “White” thing.

I know that some are thinking this, so let me make a disclaimer:

Do I feel that all working class blacks in the inner city see their middle class counterparts as not being “Black Enough” or as “sell-outs”, “Goofy Marks” and “Uncle Toms”?

Of course not, as it’s not my intention in any way, shape or form to stereotype my fellow African Americans like that.

Or in anything else.

But whether I’m right or wrong in this opinion, it seems to me that too many folks in the “hood”, particularly young folks, feel this way.

I’m not 100% sure if this cultural mindset has substantially changed from the time I was a kid to the present day, but I will say this…

It is VERY frustrating that young kids in the inner city still seem to feel the pressure to do bad things in order to gain respect and avoid being called a “Goofy Mark” or an “Uncle Tom”.

Spike Lee, who many folks see as being as Black as they come, hit the nail on the head when he said,


“Whites no longer hold blacks back. We hold ourselves back.”


I think I can best sum all of this up by stating this:

The day that “Being Black Enough” is no longer associated with engaging in negative activity, when it’s associated with more appropriate things like pride in one’s heritage and embracing excellent performance in education and speaking properly instead of talking in constant “Ghetto” slang and fighting in order to avoid being called a “Mark” – among other things – will be a most happy one for me.