*I didn’t care for Derek. He had the kind of nervous energy grown-ups attributed to kids who ate too much sugar.
He talked too much, laughed too loud, and despite Melvin’s mom’s edict for us to keep our 13 year-old selves close to home on that still, humid, lazy Oklahoma City Saturday afternoon—she said Melvin’s uncle was driving up from tiny Seminole, about 50 miles away from us—Derek kept insisting the three of us abandon our perch on the peeling white banister along the front porch of Melvin’s family’s faded lemon clapboard house and go hang out at Washington Park.
When it was clear we weren’t budging, Derek introduced another idea.
“Let’s play Mod Squad!”
“Cool,” said Melvin.
Before he or I could say anything else, Derek blurted, “I’m Linc!”
Like most children, those in my predominantly Black, Eastside neighborhood played pretend. You know—pretend to be someone or something you’re not: a cowboy, fireman, policeman, soldier. When we got older but still kids, we pretended to be characters from our favorite TV shows. After it made its premiere on ABC-TV in 1968, one of our favorite things to play was “The Mod Squad.”
The drama, starring 20-something white unknowns Michael Cole, Peggy Lipton and black newcomer Clarence Williams III, about a trio of young, hip undercover cops (“One Black, One White, One Blonde,” went the show’s catchphrase), might have seemed unbelievable, but in 1968, we desperately needed the escape.
Think things are crazy today? Consider 1968: On April 4th, six months before “Mod Squad”’s debut, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. It was one of the few times I saw mama cry. King’s murder cast a pall of anger, fear and hopelessness over black America, where, in several major cities, riots broke out.
That June, Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and the man on whom Black America hung its last, anguished political hope, was gunned down during a campaign appearance at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Viet Nam war, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, raged on.
At least “The Mod Squad”’s cool “counter culture” cops took a smidgen of edge off how Blacks felt about law enforcement. After all the horrific evening news images of Blacks being beaten water hosed and shot during the nation’s civil unrest, young Black America was more than ready to see a Soul Brother like Williams’s Lincoln “Linc” Hayes character, with his together ‘fro, dark glasses and super cool demeanor, sock it to white crooks. Clarence Williams would go on to an acting career of varied roles, notably, almost two decades later, as father to Prince‘s character in “Purple Rain.” But in ’68, he was Linc, whose dramatic running dive while chasing down a bad guy became the trademark move every young, male black “Mod Squad” fan imitated at least once.
But I’d never played “Mod Squad.” How could you, with no female around to be Lipton’s Julie Barnes? See, when it came to pretend, I was adamant about authenticity. Some people have an aversion to different foods on their plate touching; it was the same with me and playing pretend. It had to be right.
I remember attending a boy’s birthday party, where, in the backyard, some of the kids were playing pretend. There was Superman, “Kato” ( the sidekick to TV’s “Green Hornet,” portrayed on the show by a young unknown martial artist named Bruce Lee), the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, somebody pretending to be Greg Morris’ character on “Mission Impossible” and 60s’ TV private eye, “Mannix.”
I found it all disgusting: Not in a million years would Mannix have ever been acquainted with the Human Torch. Ever.
I’d bully Tony, my younger brother, into joining me and our friend Donnie Minnis in pretending to be the Beatles: Would it kill you to stand here, hold that broom and be George Harrison? I’d assign Donnie to be John Lennon. I was always Paul. We didn’t have a Ringo. Okay, so I wasn’t always consistent in my insistence on authenticity.
After Derek jumped on being “Linc,” Melvin immediately said he’d be “Mod Squad”’s Cool White Boy, “Pete Cochran.” Then they looked at me. Uh uh. No way am I going to be the chick. I’m not a girl.
“But we just playin’,” Derek coyly pushed back. “You know I ain’t really Linc. Melvin ain’t that white cat. We just playin’.”
“Yeah, but…I ain’t doin’ it.”
We went back and forth about this, before Derek tossed a grenade into the mix: “…And we was gon’ play Mod Squad all the way to Grady’s,” he said, referring to the mid-sized trailer a few blocks away that had been permanentized by a cement foundation and plumbing into an air conditioned, counter seating-only diner serving burgers and hot dogs. “I was going to treat.” Melvin’s eyes widened. Again, he looked at me.
Shoot. I did not want to do this. I suspected Derek simply wanted me to be Julie Barnes in the name of humiliation.
But the stakes were high. A Grady’s hot dog, smothered in chili and onions, accessorized by a bag of Lay’s potato chips, all of it washed down with an ice cold grape Nehi pop, was no joke.
So I relented to being Julie Barnes. But I had rules. For one, they couldn’t call me Julie Barnes. No yelling out, “Let’s get outta here, Julie!” or “Duck, Julie, it’s a bomb!” None of that. Melvin’s mother agreed that he could go to Grady’s. However, coolness had its limits: she gave him some change and instructed him to at some point Mod Squad himself into Safeway and return with a bottle of Clorox.
Playing Mod Squad involved what playing pretend usually entailed: a lot of stylized running, peeking around the corners of trees, cars, buildings, and socking it out with imaginary crooks.
As Julie, I merely walked with the guys. Thanks to God’s divine mercy, on TV Julie Barnes never sashayed or was purposefully “sexy.” Indeed, Lipton’s character, which appeared perpetually contemplative and seldom smiled, was the first woman in a man’s world that I remember watching on TV who didn’t exist simply for the pleasure of men. She was a human being. Quiet, introspective.
We fought crime all the way to Safeway ’s massive parking lot, where we ran into Joseph Weeks. Fifteen, JW, as we called him, seemed even older, his maturity the result of stunning circumstances.
When his mother passed away suddenly, with no father in the house and apparently no extended family to speak of, JW and his two siblings–Pam and Jonathan, thirteen and fourteen, respectively–all working various jobs after school (where they made good grades), simply continued living in the ramshackle house on their own. They raised themselves.
Tall, lanky, handsome, smart, resourceful and dignified for a kid, JW always reminded me of a mashup of actor Jimmy Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and Gregory Peck in “To Kill A Mockingbird” were the combination Black and teenaged. JW’s dry humor could strike like a cobra. He didn’t suffer Derek’s silly antics easily, often putting Derek in his place, even when Derek didn’t always know it was happening.
“Wha’ chall doin.’”
“Playing Mod Squad,” said Melvin.
“Oh yeah? Who’s Linc?”
“I am,” Derek said proudly.
I’m the white boy….” Chimed Melvin.
“Just two Mod Squad?” JW asked. “Where’s the chick?” He looked at me. I looked away.
“We’re going to Grady’s,” Derek interjected, attempting to impress JW. “Wanna come? I’m buyin’….”
“Naw, I just ate.”
“Where you headed,’” I asked.
JW said he was going over to Darvin Bennett’s house, who, under the guidance of his dad, owned a monster Lionel train set, legendary in the neighborhood, that nearly took up their whole garage. “You wanna come?”
I looked at the Mod Squad. “I’m goin’ to Grady’s,” Melvin insisted, as if to say, no train set can compete with a hotdog smothered in chili and onions. And cheese. Melvin liked grated cheddar on his.
Derek’s covert glare at me said, Ima tell JW you’re Julie Barnes. Nervous, I braced myself for the ridicule…that never came. Derek didn’t say boo about me being Julie. I bailed on the Squad for JW and the train set, but not without finding new love for Derek that day, for keeping his mouth shut.
While taking an alley shortcut to Darvin’s, we came upon a group of kids I didn’t know. Turns out, they were playing Justice League of America, D.C. Comics’ collective of superhero crimefighters, the comic book’s original version of which included, among others, Superman, Batman, Aquaman and The Flash. JW knew the kid who, as Green Lantern, seemed to be running things.
Unlike the usual pretend-play, where the enemy is imaginary, these kids were about to head over to the grounds of Woodson Elementary, where another group of kids—evil space invaders—were waiting to do battle. At stake was dominion of the Universe.
JW’s buddy said that, were we interested, we could round out the League. “We could use a Batman,” the kid said matter-of-factly. “We had one, but he had to go home and cut the grass….”
“I’ll be Batman,” I perked up.
“No, I’ll be Batman,” said JW.
“Nope, I said it first. I’m Batman.”
JW waited until his friend walked away and then turned to me. “Now, niggarito,” he undertoned firmly, “I just rescued yo’ Black ass from being a white woman. I’m GON’ be Batman, motherfucka.”
So JW was hip all along. That he knew I was Julie Barnes back there and never said anything made him my real life hero.
Robin the Boy Wonder wasn’t in the original Justice League, but what’s a small discrepancy among super friends?
Fast forward nine years to Los Angeles, 1977. I’m standing in the lobby of the Music Center downtown swigging Heineken with Ed Eckstein, then running Quincy Jones Productions. We’re awaiting the start of a concert for jazz-rock band Return To Forever, when Ecktein’s famous boss, with whom I’d become acquainted through my young career as a music journalist, suddenly appears. He’s not alone.
“Steve, have you met Peggy?” Quincy asks, just as she walks up. It’s…it’s Julie Barnes! Only it’s not Julie Barnes, it’s Peggy Lipton. Casually chic in a flowing white summer dress and immediately personable, the actress is nothing like her old Mod Squad character. For one thing, Lipton smiles. “Hi ya doin,’” she says, extending a small hand that executes a firm handshake.
So taken was I to meet Lipton that I’m sure I didn’t give proper respect to another introduction Quincy made to me right after Lipton: his runnin’ buddy standing right there, legendary composer Henry Mancini, with his wife, singer Virginia O’Connor-Mancini.
It was all over in a matter of minutes, the surreal encounter. Soon, Eckstein and I were in our seats digging the ferocious musicianship of RTF’s Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Al Di Meola. The concert climaxed with an encore of Stevie Wonder being led onstage to join the quartet for a perfunctory rendition of Wonder’s “Superstition,” made exciting only by the unexpected presence of Wonder himself.
I enjoyed it all immensely. But even before Wonder’s arrival, in my mind, the night’s music had been relegated to serving as soundtrack to sentimental memories. All I could think about was childhood buddies Melvin, Derek and JW, and the fact that I’d just met Ms. Mod Squad. After the concert Eckstein and I headed into Hollywood for Greenblatt’s deli, when what I really craved was a Grady’s hot dog with chili. And plenty onions. END
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]
The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: Stand Your Ground A License to Kill Protestors?
*Just as Americans are fixated on the results of the 2020 Presidential Election Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to push legislation through the Florida statehouse that could put targets on the backs of protestors exercising their First Amendment rights. While the eyes of Americans are watching the White House, DeSantis is sneaking through the back door – aka the statehouse.
If De Santis has his way people who use deadly force against protestors could use the Stand Your Ground law as their defense to get away with murder. De Santis drafted a bill that could expand the controversial law to cover anybody who claims they feared for their lives and end up killing a protestor.
The first issue I have with this law is who is to say whether a person is a protestor or looter or rioter in the heat of the moment? The second issue I have with this proposed expansion of the law is it promotes using deadly force to protect personal property. Most SYG and castle doctrine laws across the United States allow using deadly force only if a person feels their life or a loved one’s life is in danger. Killing someone over theft or property damage is unlawful. If Florida expands this law it could be a green light for other states to do the same.
In addition, DeSantis’ bill includes mandatory punishment for protest organizers and mandatory jail time for anyone convicted of assaulting police and it would block local municipalities from defunding local police departments. View the video for more details.
Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Email her at [email protected] with your comments, questions and speaking inquiries. Follow her @TCBStef on Twitter and Instagram.
JFK Remembered: ‘Purple Raindrops’
[Updated version from the author’s book, “Book To The Future” (Amazon)]
As we commemorate the 57th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, many things are being written and new revelations are surfacing about our revered fallen hero. For instance, until now it has not been widely known about the various enervating illnesses JFK suffered from early childhood and throughout his adult life which included Addison’s disease. The many medications he reportedly was taking seem to be on par with the magnitude of findings after singer Michael Jackson’s death.
It was a sad day when we heard the news about JFK on November 22, 1963. That was truly the day America lost its innocence. Videos of the presidential motorcade ambling through the streets of Dallas, and the impact of that dreadful moment surely defined the BC and AD of our times. Thanks to television, the image of JFK was larger than life. On a higher level, Jesus – the very image of God – was larger than life. What deep sorrow and loss his disciples must have felt when he, the Son of God who had all power, died on the cross suffering the ultimate separation – from God the Father! [Ref: Matt. 27:45-50, KJV]
Looking through the historical lens at closely bonded relations it seems the closer the bond, the deeper the sorrow when it is broken. Just imagine the horror and shock, when JFK was shot, then the suddenness of loss Jackie Kennedy felt as she sat there watching her husband die in such a cruel and gruesome manner. Think of JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy (who also died years later at the hand of a gunman); his big brother leaving D.C. for Dallas with all power, and being returned to him in D.C. in a casket all within a matter of hours. It’s the lasting anguish as intimated by L.C. Cooke on the loss of his brother, world-renowned singer Sam Cooke – shot and killed at the height of his career – “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.” Most of us can relate to the anguish and the agony of sudden loss; here one minute and gone the next particularly by a bullet. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John Lennon, and Marvin Gaye. The news was totally shocking and unexpected.
I was recently researching some songs in Stevie Wonder’s discography and discovered that the song “Purple Raindrops,” which was the B-side of “Uptight (Everything Is Alright),” was released by Motown Records November 22, 1965. Written by Stevie’s tutor Ted Hull, the song was already two years old which would place its creation around the time of JFK’s death in ’63. For years the song was virtually lost in oblivion, but Stevie was singing “purple” before Prince’s “Purple Rain,” and the movie “The Color Purple.”
There are various interpretations and meanings of the actual color purple. Award-winning designer Jennifer Bourn writes, “Purple combines the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red. The color purple is often associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, power, and ambition. Purple also represents meanings of wealth, extravagance, creativity, wisdom, dignity, grandeur, devotion, peace, pride, mystery, independence, and magic.” Does that sound like our beloved JFK and the romanticism of an anywhere place called Camelot? Coincidentally, at the time of JFK’s death I was living on Camelot Way in Los Angeles’ Green Meadows projects.
Purple signifies our highest honors. The Purple Heart is awarded to our military soldiers for meritorious performance of duty. I wish we could award one to every little child who has to leave home headed for school through a minefield of uncertainty due to senseless gun violence.
Bourn further writes, “The color purple has a variety of effects on the mind and body, including uplifting spirits, calming the mind and nerves, enhancing the sacred, creating feelings of spirituality, increasing nurturing tendencies and sensitivity, and encouraging imagination and creativity. Purple is associated with spirituality, the sacred, higher self, passion, third eye, fulfillment, and vitality. Purple helps align oneself with the whole of the universe.”
Bourn’s take on shades of purple can also be ascribed to Jackie Kennedy’s experience. In video composites Jackie is shown wearing pink when leaving the hospital after their infant son Patrick died just months before JFK, and the more familiar pink outfit that JFK’s blood splattered all over in the motorcade car in which they were riding.
Bourn writes, “Light purple or lavender is a feminine, graceful, elegant color that has long been associated with refined, wealthy women. While the color purple represents royalty, lavender represents beauty and femininity. Lavender is considered to be the ‘grown-up’ pink.” Certainly Jackie’s “pink” went beyond lavender and to a deeper shade after that period in her life.
At the close of 1963, America was already feeling change in the air and it was voiced in Bob Dylan’s 1964 album release titled “The Times They Are a-Changing.” The following month introduced The Beatles for the first time on the Ed Sullivan show – the British invasion had begun. That same month The Kingsmen came out with one of the most controversial songs of all time – “Louie, Louie,” and 22 year-old Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing crown, declaring “I am the greatest.” Later in June The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” exploded on the charts – its simplicity reminded me of bubble gum and hopscotch. I think it really resonated in America and on a global scale as people reflected on Camelot lost. As 1964 came to a close we lost Sam Cooke who left us a message of hope – “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Despite all the difficulties JFK encountered during his brief presidency, he forged ahead. Being the youngest president ever elected, he intuitively knew that it was his moment. He knew his purpose was to usher in a new era, and he delivered. He was the “purple” and when he died, it spattered on us like purple raindrops and enriched our lives. The beginning lines to Stevie’s “Purple Raindrops” are: “Purple raindrops/spattered flowers/I daydream for hours…” JFK’s legacy – to dream big, and the challenge “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” – is truly a profile worth remembering and acknowledging.
To hear Stevie Wonder’s “Purple Raindrops” (<ahref=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UXsJ9Yj1Ho>CLICK HERE)
Please share your thoughts in the user-friendly, no-obligation comment section below.
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based contributing writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon); two insightful books that speak to our moral conscience in times like these. Email: [email protected]
The Wattree Chronicle: Dubious Donnie’s Just Reward
*I hate to celebrate another person’s misfortune. That kind of pettiness is totally classless. But watching Donald Trump having to agonize through his current loss to Joe Biden is making me want to dance in the street.
Donald Trump is currently showing the world just how petty and vindictive he is. He’s purposely doing everything in his waning power to make America suffer for voting him out of office. Due to his petty, vindictive nature, he’s trying to punish America by refusing to concede and failing to cooperate with a smooth transition of power.
His intent – other than his desperation over having to face the possible legal consequences of his past behavior – is to make it much harder for President-Elect Joe Biden to pick up the pieces after he’s gone, and he doesn’t care how many Americans he’s responsible for killing in the process. And the Republican Party clearly recognizes that fact, but they’re much too weak-kneed and self-serving to defend the American people from this atrocity. But America will recover, so all Trump’s actually doing is making a fool of himself, ensuring his place in the garbage heap of history, and clearly demonstrating just how rudderless this nation has been for the past four years.
Trump insists that the election was rigged, while not only the facts, but simple logic suggests that’s not the case. The fact that Donald Trump lost, while the Republican Party fared much better than expected, indicates that the American people didn’t reject conservatism, but Donald Trump.
This article/essay continues at The Wattree Chronicle.
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