Episode three preview

 

ISSN 2476 – 1753 (online)

In basketball, the team plays two guards, a center, and two forwards.

In baseball, it’s three outfielders, four infielders, a catcher, and a pitcher.

In football, there’re 11 on offense, 11 on defense, and 11 on special teams.

In music, the team is made up quite similarly. And the only difference between the teams in sports and those in music is that in music they all have the ball at the same time.

You have A&R (artist and repertoire), which is probably the most glamorous position on the team. These are the gals and guys that go out and “discover” talent, and then oversee the creative direction for the artists’ projects.

New media takes care of everything considered “new” media–as opposed to old media–so that includes everything concerning the Internet; and believe it or not, music videos are considered a “new” form of media, so they oversee promoting those as well.

Publicity, contrarily, works with “old” media–landing local and national newspaper features, interviews and album reviews, radio and TV interviews and appearances. Obviously there’s overlap between new and old given the rise of blogs and online newspapers, which may blur the department line. And artists often have their own publicist, for a more personal approach, that works with the label’s department in these efforts.

Promotion takes care of the radio airplay and promotional efforts, such as contests and giveaways.

Sales works closely with the label’s distribution company and oversees retail and sales activity for the label’s projects.

Art handles designs of products, advertising and press material.

Marketing makes the unique plans for all of this, respective to each project the label is going to release.

And then there’s Business Affairs, which takes care of the books, finances, and payroll. They’re the money people.

And then you have Legal, which handles, well, legal stuff.

This team makes moving a finished project from the computer to the consumer a seamless process. At least, that’s the way it was designed in the beginning.

But like in sports, the idea is to have a bunch of positions work in concert, all focusing on their area of expertise, in order to facilitate a specific goal—winning.

For us, things work a little bit differently. First of all, the team is a whole lot smaller. And the playbook?

“So. What’s the next play? Because I have some ideas.”

Tk had a room in his place dedicated to music just like I had, but his was devoted more to production and recording rather than business.

He was sitting behind a self-customized desktop (with extra everything for more power and speed) and two flat-panel monitors that only showed audio files.

Tongue-like, a CD quickly slid out from a recorder. He quickly grabbed it and pointed it at me, not bothering to put it in a case.

“Dude. Why are you still using CDs?” I asked, looking at the CD in his hand for a moment. I actually didn’t want to take it because, despite being a purest and avid collector of vinyl, I actually hated physical objects when it came to music. There was really no need for me to have this CD when he could’ve just uploaded the music and sent me the link.

But he kept his hand extended, waiting for me to take it, not bothering to answer my question.

So, reluctantly, I took the CD and slid the naked disc into my bag.

And then he finished his thought, “I say: do as many shows as we can. Hit college radio. Get local press. Show my face as much as possible.”

I just stared at him without saying a word, waiting for the “ideas” he said he had.

“That’s not an idea,” I said. “That’s… the definition of insanity.”

“It worked last time,” he said in defense.

My eyebrows immediately went up, taking the place of me actually coming out and asking, Are you kidding me?

“Yeah, we did some overseas shows, had some decent play with the videos, and we sold a lot of singles—”

“And don’t forget the press,” he reminded me. “I got some good press—”

“Yeah, but if barely selling 5 thousand total units constitutes ‘working’ then…” I took a deep breath, “we need to redefine what working actually means.”

Although it may not be the first place you think of when music comes to mind, a city like DC has its upsides. As one of the most occupationally diverse places in the world, it’s never hard for me to gain the insight I need on those rare occasions when Google just isn’t enough.

I requested some time with my friend and mentor, January Reed, so she had her assistant invite me to her office on Connecticut Avenue with a scheduled hour-long allotment of her time.

“Kenya!” she said with excitement, flashing a smile that I’ve literally seen stop cars before. She got up from her desk to meet me with both a hug and kisses on both sides of my face.

Her assistant, who was much taller standing than she appeared before she stood up, had walked me into the office and disappeared back out before I could even thank her for the coffee she’d fixed during my brief stint waiting.

“It’s been, what? Six months?” January asked.

“No, that was last year when we had lunch—”

“It has not been that long!” she exclaimed in disbelief. “Please. Have a seat, kiddo.” She directed me to the sofa sitting in the middle of the floor across from her desk.

I untangled my messenger bag and placed it on the floor, gingerly, although it still made a thump.

“Damn. What you got in that thing?” she asked, probably not really expecting an answer.

But I replied anyway, “My life.” And she got the joke (although it wasn’t a joke). “Just my computer, couple hard drives, music, you know.”

She smiled and shook her head. It was a smile of delight—one she gave me often, almost every time I said something that reminded her, perhaps, of herself at some point in her life.

January was a 40-something, mixed-race transplant from London, who came to New York when she was 18 with the hopes of becoming an actor. She landed a few small jobs early on; one included being the love interest in a Johnny Gill video. She was wide-eyed the entire time she was on set. Not because she was in the room with her childhood crush, but because she was in awe watching how everything was coming together around her.

She had always been interested in music, but more so the art, not the behind the scenes stuff. But before that video wrapped, she got the chance to talk to Johnny’s manager, who told her about internships at the label to which Johnny was signed.

The beauty of being in New York was that the very next day, she was able to be at the office filling out an application to essentially volunteer her time to learning more about how things worked. And, of course, get coffee and lunch for everyone.

She never acted in another music video again. In fact, she never acted again at all. She did, however, work her way up in that record label, eventually becoming a senior VP before switching companies several times to take jobs that always came with more money, fringe benefits, and sexier titles.

At the height of her career, January was one of the most successful and most powerful women in music, reaching vice president status at the biggest music company in the world. But even she wasn’t immune to the economic crash that plagued the music industry.

So she moved on, reluctantly. She’d spent the past few years working in a “less volatile industry,” as she called it—advertising. And from the looks of her office, she was apparently doing pretty well here too.

I hadn’t been in the place five full minutes and I was already knee-deep in a story about my last visit to New York for a performance with Tk. January was half-sitting on the edge of her desk, hanging onto my every word.

“And so, the show at the Apollo ended at 11, but he got invited to get on at this spot down in the village. So… midnight, we’re on the train from Harlem. He rocked that show too! We left there after 3 and had to be up by 6 to get to Brooklyn for this high school event the next morning…”

Advertising brought the stability she sought. But January couldn’t forget that music, however, brought excitement that couldn’t be found anywhere else. So she lived vicariously through me.

“Boy, I remember those days,” she said, staring off into the distance, perhaps recollecting one of her own stories about long days and late nights and early mornings and no sleep… All in the name of music.

But she chose to keep whatever those memories were to herself.

She looked back at me, smiled, and said, “So… tell me more about Tk’s show at the Kennedy Center!”

She missed the music life. So whenever I needed insight about business, she was there. Whenever she needed to reminisce, I was her girl.

My hour with her at the office bled right into the time she was scheduled to take lunch, so she insisted that I come with her to this “awesome Tex-Mex place down the street,” and who am I to turn down good Tex-Mex?

You ever have the feeling you’re talking too much? Well, I got that feeling when I looked down at the table after telling another story and realized that all my food was still on my plate, but January’s was all gone.

For a woman with such a skinny frame, she sure could eat. And the fact that her food was gone didn’t stop her. She turned her attention back to the bowl of tortilla chips and salsa that was placed on the table as a makeshift appetizer when we first sat down.

“Like I always say: I admire the shit out of what you’re doing. But you know the old music business model is so fucking antiquated…”

She shook her head just think about how much this obviously still annoyed her.

“The reason why you’re having trouble coming up with a marketing plan for Tk is because you’re going to have to totally create something new, something that’s never been fucking done—minus the resources. It’s not impossible, just… It’s going to be difficult as shit.”

She took a tortilla chip, scooped up some salsa and bit into it.

I was used to her making me wait for the knowledge she was about to impart. So I watched, eagerly waiting as she took her time chewing.

“I don’t have to tell you that the traditional record label is nothing more than a bank with a fucked up marketing department. You know that. I mean, we would shell out money like shit and expect it back with interest!” she said in outrage.

“Sure, in return, we might help ’em out by putting their record in stores and getting them on fucking BET or MTV or some shit… You, my dear, don’t have the luxury of doing this with your artists. But… I don’t believe that you need to. Believe it or not, you are in the perfect position right now because…”

I listened without interruption to January’s opinion about what my next play should be. She didn’t use a sports analogy, but the gist of her advice to me was: I was in the game, I just needed to figure out how to score. Fortunately, she had a few tips on how I could do that, so I finally got the chance to eat my lunch because she talked until that entire bowl of chips was gone.

The waiter, a cute Mexican guy with tattoo sleeves up his arm and a glossy Mohawk, brought the check and flashed me a smile before he walked off.

“He’s cute. Short as hell, but still cute. Why don’t you say something?” she asked, smiling teasingly.

“Say something like what?” I asked, as I picked up the check to see what the damage would be.

Before I could get a good look at it, January snatched it from me.

“Don’t worry about it. My treat,” she said.

Picking up the checkbook was my way of, at least, showing effort. I’d never paid for a single thing while out with January, and she wasn’t going to have me start today.

“You wanna do something for me?” she asked. “Stand to my right as we walk out.”

She’d had it planned out, play-by-play, Xs and Os, hand signals, secret words even. I had been recruited to play the position of wingman. Or… wing-woman, I suppose.

Unbeknownst to me, she’d spotted him when we came in. The table she requested opposite the window was a move made for positioning. During that first bathroom break was when she made herself noticed to him: a clean-cut man in his early 40s, in business casual attire, sitting alone.

As we prepared to leave, she’d already timed the waiter’s exit from the back so that she could use me to intercept his last drink as she approached him from the blindside.

“Excuse me,” she said, making her presence known. “My friend here and I were trying to figure out where we know you from. Were you at the Minority Business Leaders Conference this year?”

He said that he wasn’t, but that he was, in fact, a business owner: ice cream parlors. January told him that maybe that’s where she knew him from because…

“I love ice cream,” she said.

It played out as if scripted and it felt about as hackneyed as a Katherine Hiegl movie. But five minutes in and they were exchanging phone numbers with plans to talk again.

I could only stand back and watch in awe.

+ + +

to the top

+ + +

“It was… amazing! It was like she knew just what to do. Just what to say. Like she knew what he would say,” I said, as Ty and J concentrated on tasting every single one of the cheese samples at the table. Being a two-month-old vegan, I passed on the cheeses, although the smoked cheddar was calling my name.

The lady, who proudly let us know that she had made the cheese herself, smiled as she watched them enjoy every piece they tried. This was her first time as a vendor at Eastern Market, a historic farmer’s market that featured all kinds of local vendors, in addition to fresh food and events. So maintaining a smile was probably the woman’s way of saying, nonverbally, that she hoped they would make a purchase.

Ty selected a loaf of Monterey Jack, despite J’s insistence upon the Gouda.

“Why don’t you buy it if you want it so badly?” Ty said.

“Because,” J explained, “I don’t really buy cheese like that.”

“But you want me to buy it,” Ty concluded.

“Well, you’re buying it anyway. I’m just saying that you should buy the kind I like. You’re not going to eat a whole—what is that? Five pounds?” J asked. “You are not going to eat five pounds of this shit.”

The smile slowly slid off of the woman’s face.

“Not that your cheese is ‘shit’,” Ty said, trying to lessen the apparent blow the woman felt from J’s words. “It’s just an expression… I’ll take the Jack, please. Thank you.”

J sighed and shook her head. “Fuck are you gonna do with five pounds of cheese? I’m not coming over to help you eat that,” she warned.

“You promise?” Ty asked with a teasing smile.

The lady finished bagging Ty’s cheese, and they exchanged pleasantries before we moved on.

“But you were saying—about January and the guy?” Ty reminded me.

“Yeah. She suddenly had game. I mean… she was almost as good as…” And I looked at J. And then Ty looked at her too.

J was in mid-sip, with the disposable hot/cold cup still at her mouth, when she looked over it realizing that I was comparing the new January to her.

“So, she’s not normally like that?” Ty asked.

“No,” I said, insistently, while shaking my head. “No. She’s usually all business. But now… I don’t know. It was like meeting this man was a top priority.”

“How old is she?” J inquired.

With a shrug, I answered, “42, maybe.”

“It is a priority,” J said, with certainty. “Single women over 35 think time is running out. It’s the silliest fucking thing.”

“But I get it,” Ty responded. “When you really want something, time always feels like it’s running out. And when you factor in having kids of your own? I’ll just say this: the medical industry has done a good job of scaring us into believing that when it comes to having kids, if you’re not too young, then you’re too old. My mother was 45 when she had me and I’m perfectly fine.”

“Mm. If you say so,” J joked.

Ty smiled and repaid her with a shove on the shoulder.

I interrupted them by simply holding up a card—black, printed on silk, with gold writing. On it was simply the name “Kenneth Gold” and a phone number.

J took it from me and examined it.

“She said it was all thanks to this guy. Says he’s one of her clients. She calls him a genius.”

J said, contemplatively, “Kenneth Gold, huh,” with a familiarity in her tone.

“Jesus,” Ty said. “Don’t tell me—”

“No. He’s married. Happily. 10 years.”

“Well, how do you know him?” I asked.

“How do you not?” J asked back. “Everybody knows him.”

I looked at Ty who gave a slight shrug because she obviously didn’t know him either.

J went on: “We featured him in the magazine—well, it’ll be on newsstands next month—but he’s like a dating coach. He used to exclusively help men, but then he started working with women a few years ago and his career really took off from there.”

“A coach,” I repeated.

“Yeah, I mean, for women, he gives insight on how and what men think to help you attract who you want and talk to them with confidence,” J explained.

Still holding the business card, she looked at it once again, and then looked over at Ty. “Hey, maybe you should give him a call since your strategy doesn’t seem to be working.”

Ty sipped her tea, choosing not to entertain J on this topic.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Ty’s morning schedule allowed for a coffee stop at the Peet’s Coffee near her office.

Between 8:04 and 8:11, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she would find herself trying not to stare at Ryan, who apparently finished his morning run with a ‘Large Café Americano, extra hot.

“’Large Café Americano, extra hot! Ryan!” yelled the barista, which was the only reason Ty even knew his name was Ryan.

Ryan stood about 6’2”, had a swimmer’s lean, but muscular physique, dark brown hair that seemed to highlight his bluish gray eyes. He always smiled at whoever was working that day just before picking up his coffee. He’d snatch a couple of the brown napkins from the dispenser, two packs of raw sugar, and a wooden stirring thing before heading out.

He was so beautiful to Ty that she sometimes caught herself with her mouth partially open, watching him while waiting for her own order.

For months now, it never changed. The same fit, good looking white guy in running gear would walk in, order, wait, walk over to retrieve his drink, and then leave without her ever saying as much as a “Hello” to him. And he never seemed to notice her any more or less than any other person there.

But every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she would time it just so she could get there the same time he did.

Some mornings, she was too early—leaving just as he was coming in.

Some mornings, she was too late—coming in just as he was leaving.

Some mornings, maybe Ryan just wasn’t in the mood for the ‘Large Café Americano, extra hot, and he didn’t show up.

Scheduling her morning around seeing him was the only play Ty had… If you want to call it a play.

As we prepared to leave Eastern Market, I watched J, as she and a caramel colored brother buying handmade African soap behind us, caught eyes for probably the fifth time since we’d been there, and I thought to myself: If Ty only knew how easy it truly was to meet the man she wanted

Before we made it five more steps toward the exit, I heard a baritone voice behind us: “Excuse me, ladies.”

And we all turned, none of use surprised to see that it was the guy from the soap stand.

“Hi,” he said to J with a teeth-showing grin. “I couldn’t help but notice that you hadn’t stopped smiling at me since the moment you walked in here—”

“Oh really?” she cut in, still smiling. “You know, I could say the same about you. “

“You could,” he agreed. “But then you’d have to take the blame for it.”

“Oh, I already know I’m responsible. It’s my special power,” she said, almost discreetly, which caused him to chuckle even more.

“Now, I just have to be able to put a name to the beautiful face. I’m Cam, by the way.”

“Hi, Cam. I’m J,” she said, accepting his handshake.

By this point, Ty and I had stepped away, but we could still hear them talking and giggling.

“Hey, what’d you end up getting from that vegetable stand back there?” I asked.

But Ty barely heard me, as she stood there studying J and Cam a few feet away. It was almost as if she was taking mental notes, watching J’s every move.

After a few minutes, J retrieved her phone from her coat pocket and began the number exchange with Cam, who was also holding his phone.

When it was all done, J walked back over to us as if nothing had happened.

“Alright, y’all ready to go?”

I nodded, but Ty just stared at her, finally blurting out, “How the hell do you do that?”

J smiled and led the way as we began our walk back to the Metro station.

She was a few feet ahead of us when Ty looked at me and said, “Seriously. How the hell does she do it?”

The question was obviously rhetorically, because she was seriously asking the wrong person this time. I simply smiled and shrugged.

Lucas had never stepped foot in a professional recording studio until I brought him to one a few weeks ago to show him where he’d be making his first project. He tried to maintain his cool, but the instruments, microphones, the boards, the buttons, even the egg carton-looking foam padding that lined the walls had him breath taken. He couldn’t help himself; he had to touch everything.

The engineer was a friend of mine, Alana Joseph, a woman I met during my internship at Universal. She was their marketing rep for the Mid-Atlantic region at the time and always helped me execute my ideas for promoting their artists on campuses in the area. We connected because of a shared love for Reba McEntire.

She left the company the same month I left school, but we kept in touch. Now, she was a fledgling engineer at a studio in northeast. I was impressed by her work on similar projects, which is what prompted me to call her about working with me on Lucas’ album. I wasn’t expecting the good deal she made me on the rates, but I certainly welcomed it.

I arrived at the studio a few hours after Lucas was set to record his second track with her. So I stood in the control room with Alana watching Lucas through the glass, sitting in the recording booth on a stool, strumming his guitar with his eyes closed, singing his little heart out. He had no idea I was there.

The song was a semi-acoustic ballad, contingent upon a strong, flawless vocal. Listen to Paramore’s “The Only Exception” and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

It told the story of boy growing up having lost both of his parents and the agony he feels everyday that they can’t contribute to the person he wants to be—a person that makes them proud. But the second verse reveals his struggle having been raised by a bad, bad world—hence, the title, “Bad World.”

When he finished, he opened his eyes to see me clapping for him, and this made him blush uncontrollably and smile contagiously.

Alana pushed a button so that we could talk.

Lucas asks, already knowing the answer, “So, you like it?”

“No,” I said. “I love it!”

“Really?” he asked, with his insecurity shining through. “I wasn’t sure about the bridge riffs and…”

“No, it’s incredible,” I said. “If it sucked, you know I would tell you. It don’t suck.”

He smiled, very happy about that. But then he looked up at me and said, “Well. Mario said the shit was too soft.”

And my smile was immediately taken hostage by a grimace. I had so many questions about that statement that I didn’t know where to begin.

So Lucas asked the obvious one for me: “Who the fuck is Mario?” And then he answered it, “He’s my cousin.”

That really didn’t tell me anything, but apparently, Lucas thought that it answered everything. He picked up his guitar and started strumming chords for another song and singing to himself.

Alana hit a button to turn off the intercom and without looking at me: “Still confused? You should hear the song they did together.”

“The song who did?” I asked, knowing that she wasn’t—she couldn’t—be talking about Lucas.

“Your boy here and his cousin.”

And then she used the mouse to instantly pull up another audio file and hit play.

“They recorded it last night with another engineer.”

She didn’t start it at the beginning; we were right in the middle of the first verse when the loud, mixed-genred, weird sounding, bad rap/R&B collaboration began playing. After about one bar, the hook came in and right away I recognized Lucas’s voice, singing something about “Asian bitches” and his preference for the way they “like to get fucked.” It was a poor man’s version of that DMX song with Sisqo from back in ’01.

My face was frozen in shock/disappointment/anger. I actually felt dirty just listening to it. Not because I was prudish and couldn’t stomach misogynistic rap (because I actually really like misogynistic rap). It was the fact that Lucas—my little Lucas—was involved, singing his little heart out like he really believed the things he was saying. This performance had the same heartfelt passion as the one about his parents that had played a minute ago.

“Yeah. I figured you’d like it,” Alana said with a facetious smirk.

I looked back over at Lucas in the booth. He was oblivious in more ways than one.

+ + +

to the top

+ + +

I wasted very little time calling Kenneth Gold. And after about five minutes on the phone, he requested that we meet in person, which had me thinking: “Gee, was I really that bad?”

He and his wife, Juanita, stayed on the 4th floor of the Atlantic Plumbing building just off U Street. They didn’t have any kids, and from the looks of things, they were enjoying their life without them.

I’m not the type that likes to take off my shoes when I come into places, but this condo looked like something out of some type of home design magazine. The floors were a java colored bamboo that brought out all the whites they used throughout the kitchen, dining and living rooms, which could all be seen in one glance, given the open concept.

I had no desire to track anything from outside into this place, but Kenneth insisted that I leave my shoes on.

“It’s fine. Really. We have a guy that comes in, takes care of everything,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

So I didn’t worry.

“Come in. Come in. Make yourself at home,” he said, leading me from the foyer where I’d been stationed since Juanita first opened the door and welcomed me in.

Kenneth didn’t look how I thought he’d look. Even the pictures online didn’t depict him the way he presented in person. He photographed much bigger than he was—standing only about 5’8”—and the camera certainly added 10 pounds, which means he was a bit thinner in real life.

But he had this movie star presence and an intoxicating personality that made you feel like you had a friend before you even got to know him. He looked right at me when I talked —right in the eyes—which made me feel uncomfortable. But it was almost as if he didn’t believe in multitasking; everything I said felt like top priority to him at the moment, even down to the simple instructions I gave for how I liked my coffee.

“Here you go,” he said, joining me on the couch while making sure I had full control of the mug he was handing me. “Coffee with frothed coconut. Funny: Juanita does this same thing with hers where she adds the ghee and the coconut oil,” he said with a smile.

“It’s delicious,” I said after my first sip. “Thank you.”

He took a seat on the chair adjacent to where I sat and made himself comfortable by bringing his bare feet up and crossing them under him so that his whole body was in the seat.

“So,” he started, giving me that uninterrupted stare. “Tell me why you’re single.”

Wow. He was coming with the heat before I could even get set at the plate. Just the thought of that question—or rather, the answer to that question—made me very nervous because I didn’t actually know the answer. And I didn’t know why I didn’t know it.

“Ah. Well. I guess I don’t know how to meet guys I’m interested in,” I said.

And Kenneth took a moment to actually think about this, even providing a long: “Hmm…” to go along with his thoughts.

And then: “So… If I take you to a place that’s overflowing with guys, all in whom you’re interested… What would happen?”

I couldn’t answer that. So, I didn’t.

But he did. “I’ll tell you what: You’ll glance at them discreetly, never really making eye contact. When they do look in your direction, you’ll look away, at the floor, at another person, just somewhere else, right? Am I in the ballpark?”

He was not only in the ballpark, he was standing on the pitcher’s mound, and somewhere in the distance, I could hear the umpire call, “Strike two!”

All I could do was smile, guiltily.

“Yet,” he continued, “you’re hoping that they just come over and give you that romantic comedy moment, say and do all the right things to make you not only smile, but fall madly in love. But guess what: It’s not gonna happen. You know why?”

I shook my head no, I didn’t know why.

“Because you’re not doing your part to create it. It’s not that you don’t know how to meet guys. You don’t know how to make them feel like they have to meet you.”

I sipped my coffee as he held a very uncomfortably deep gaze at me.

“So how does it normally happen?”

“What do you mean? Me meeting guys?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “You’ve had boyfriends—”

“Not nearly as many as I should’ve,” I joked.

He smiled and went on, asking, “How do you normally get to part where you’re going out with guys? How do you usually meet them?”

“Shared experiences, like school, work, or some kind of situation where we would see each other on a regular basis. I’ve never picked up a random guy, like, in a store or on the street.”

“Why? What do you have to lose?” he asked. “It’s just conversation, maybe drinks. What are you afraid will happen if you talk to a random guy on the street?”

I didn’t have an answer for him. In fact, I’d ask myself that same question every single time I pass up the opportunity to talk to an attractive random guy out of fear.

After a moment of thinking and not coming up with an answer to his question, I asked, “So. What do I need to know?”

I didn’t get to finish my homemade coconut latte he’d made me because the field trip he’d planned couldn’t wait any longer.

Before I knew it, I was standing with Kenneth inside one of the last actual bookstores left in the city. It was reasonably sized, although it felt claustrophobic because of the books everywhere—on the window seals, on tables, in rolling bins—including where they belonged on the shelves that lined the walls and floors. Despite being used as the holding spot published plays and artistic memoirs, the windows let in decent light and made for perfect places to sit and sip the special Kenyan and Guatemalan roasts that the place was known for.

I felt tempted by the aroma of the coffee, especially considering I hadn’t had my full daily dose that day, but Kenneth insisted on continuing his lesson. At this point, I was starting to feel like he was taking this session more seriously than I was.

“First thing you need to know is that it all starts with you,” he said. “What and how you think and feel about yourself is the energy we feel. And by ‘we,’ I mean men.”

I began having flashbacks of all the encounters I’ve had with men I found attractive, and I thought about the physiological change that I underwent just standing beside them or talking to them, and I just kept repeating the phrase in my head, “It all starts with me.”

And I remembered being at a loss for words and being subjected to rambling because I couldn’t complete a single thought. It all started with me.

And I remembered actually literally running into a glass door one time like a damn cartoon character or something when I was trying to sneak a better look a guy I would never in my wildest dreams approach. It all started with me.

And I remembered all the times I unconsciously tried to impress boys with my vast knowledge of “guy things,” like The Walking Dead comic books or Tom Brady’s completion percentage or Nas’ discography and why I thought he was the greatest MC of all time.

I thought about the uncontrollable sweating, the hot flashes, the heart palpitations, the utter inexplicable distress I would feel, which triggered the lack of confidence, comfort and control—all the complete opposite feelings I’d have when conducting my business in music.

It all started with me.

“Don’t worry,” he said, breaking my concentration and bringing me mentally back into the bookstore with him. “It’s not an overnight thing. It’s something you work on every single day, okay?”

I tried to agree, but I was still too caught up in those previous thoughts, so I smiled—or at least I think I did.

“Next, you gotta get in tune with your sexuality. Men, we’re visual, okay—”

“Hold up,” I cut in, assuming there was a line that I needed to draw here. “So you’re saying I need to wear a revealing dresses and high heels to a bookstore?”

“That’s what your sexuality is to you—high heels and a revealing dress? Do you even own high heels and a revealing dress?” he asked.

And he and I both know that I didn’t have to answer that verbally. The answer was obvious. But I went ahead and said, “No,” anyway.

“No,” he repeated. “That has nothing to do with your sexuality. Being in tune starts here.”

And he pointed to my head.

“It’s how you think of yourself. You’re a woman. Key into that. That’s innate power right there. You have to be confident, even if you don’t feel confident. Like I said, we’re visual. Do you know what the sexiest thing in the world is?” And before I could start guessing, he said, “The sexiest thing in the world is confidence, okay. The only thing that matters is that you are comfortable with you.”

And right then, he looked over at a guy standing in the History section, almost as if he was expecting him to be there.

“You’re going to talk to him.”

“What?!”

I looked over at the guy—average height, average weight, nondescript shirt, well-groomed—and I was starting believe my own theory that this guy was an actor, strategically placed here for this very situation. That being said, I still didn’t feel comfortable with this and Kenneth could read that.

“In order to be comfortable talking to a guy you’re interested in, you gotta start talking, period—to everybody, about any and everything. You have to practice. I want you to go over and browse the books for a few seconds, then turn to him, smile… Now, that part is very important. Smile. And say: ‘Can you recommend anything?’ Got it?”

I repeated three times under my breath, “Can you recommend anything? Can you recommend anything? Can you recommend anything?”

“It’s a guy thing. We like to give our opinion on stuff.”

He was skimming the back of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee when I came over and picked up the exact same book and started reading the back.

I wasn’t really reading the back of the book and I think the guy noticed. He glanced at me once after feeling my eye on him, and he gave a pleasant smile.

And then, a few moments later, he glanced over from his book again, and again he caught eyes with me as I used the book as a prop.

He looked back at the shelf as he placed the Wounded Knee book back in its place—

“Boy. Expansionism was a bitch, right?”

And that was it. I didn’t have anything else.

He gave me a slight smile, but it was more awkward confusion than it was shared sentiment. He took that opportunity to nod at me as if he was already on his way out, and he walked off.

I went back over to Kenneth with my proverbial tail between my legs.

“Really? What was that?” he asked.

“I didn’t know what to say—”

“What do you mean you didn’t know what to… I told you what to say!”

“Well see, I didn’t know how to say it,” I justified. “Is the emphasis on ‘you’ or on ‘anything’ or…”

Kenneth inhaled extremely deeply and let it out very slowly, like he was meditating, and said, “Recommend. Emphasis is on recommend.”

During our adventure that day, I found out that Kenneth was working on a new book to help women, such as myself, get comfortable meeting the men they wanted, as opposed to settling for the ones that approached them. So over the next week, he coached me. And since I agreed to be a featured subject—anonymously, of course—my training was part of the exchange.

I learned that once we tell ourselves something and we chose to believe it? Boy, it’s hard to change our mind about it.

In my head, I was the kinda cool, kinda funny, kinda smart, but kinda like a sister to the hoards of male friends I had over my lifetime.

That’s what I felt when I was 14. And almost 14 years later it was still how I felt.

To try to be kinda cute, kinda flirty, kinda girly, kinda somebody who has any kind of sexual effect on guys is just… un-me.

But Kenneth said that being uncomfortable is the key to growth, so I committed to getting uncomfortable.

That evening after we were finished for the day, Kenneth looked at me and dealt an exhausted smile as he said, “When this finally takes, you are gonna have me looking like a miracle worker.”

He was right. And I thought to myself, clearly, this is going to take more than a week.

Later that week, I met up with Soloman in Georgetown for an art show.

“Alright, I got the tickets, but we have about an hour to kill. Food?” he asked.

“I’m not really hungry. Plus, you know I gotta save room for popcorn.”

“Well I need a burger or something,” he said. “I’m starving.”

He began in the direction of the burger joint just a half block away, having already made up his mind about where he wanted his food.

“So… Are you like a dating expert now?” he teased, referring to my recent coaching with the dating guru. “Will you be going out with different guys all the time? Am I going to have to make appointments to meet you for a movie?”

“Please,” I said, brushing off this thought. “Even if I was that good at it, I don’t have it in me to be a player. My memory ain’t even that good. I’d be getting the guys all mixed up.”

Soloman laughed.

“Nah. One at a time. That’s about all I have time for anyway,” I clarified.

“You remember the woman I told you about, the one who I met last month at that ah… book signing thing?”

“Yeah,” I said. “The teacher—”

“The teacher! Yes. I know this sounds silly,” he said, “but wouldn’t you think a teacher’d be a nice, nurturing type of woman? Maybe looking for stability?”

“Nah, teachers be freaks.”

He laughed at me and added, “Well, yeah, this one’s got a crazy rotation. I’m one of at least… 3 guys she’s seeing—”

“What?! Wow,” I said.

“I mean… we are just dating,” he justified. “Some people have different definitions of what that is. To me, dating is getting to know one person you’re interested in. To her, it’s spending time getting to know many persons you’re interested in.”

“And you’re okay with that?” I asked.

“No. But I look at my father and grandfather, and I realize—men have not changed at all. Women, though? Are always changing. It’s a new game. New rules. It’s either adapt and play along. Or stay at home alone.”

He watched his steps for a few moments before adding, “I’m trying to adapt. The thing is, I hate playing games.”

I wondered if Soloman was right. Are we all part of a new game for which we have to learn new rules? Or are we just making up rules as we go along?”

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