All posts by Planet Noun

On My Block: A peek into the neighborhood with humor and gravitas

(LA -LA STATE OF MIND)—Hometown is a big place for me. Heck, I’m from Los Angeles. Ain’t nothin’ small about it. I live in the DC area now, but whenever I get homesick and am stuck between plane tickets, count on me looking for movies with those damn trees in the air.

But the Netflix series called On My Block dropped into my lap instead. And I let it stay awhile. The opening track by Daye Jack had me at hello.

On My Block immediately gave me the Friday feels—with a lado de la vida en South Central Los Angeles. And the first two minutes hooked me.

However, and this doesn’t happen often, nine minutes in, my thoughts degraded quick-fast. “This show is corny AF. What’s up with this dialogue. Ain’t no way these characters come up out the hood,” I scrunched my face.

T’was a fleeting thought, though. The storyline tugged me back in—conflicting feelings and all. Throughout the season, yes–I binged it, I kept checking myself for some of the words that were swirling around in my mind.

So how do I know what all hood kids sound like, how they talk? “What does it mean, linguistically, sonically to be a kid from the ‘hood or barrio? Do you have to talk a certain way? Sound a certain way? Act a certain way? Behave a certain way? “Hon, don’t even trip,” I thought. “First question can be complicated. Second, third, fourth and fifth—the answers are all—NO,” I told myself. “Besides, are you not a walking contradiction your own damn self?

This story has the usual cast of characters in “neighborhood” TV or cinema: The smart hood/barrio girl, gangsta life guy—whether he wants to be or not, the sports guy whose parents want him to play football, and the smart guy with a long-range plan.

Main Characters

Monse—is a biracial girl who doesn’t know her mother, and that is woven into the storyline. She’s also a writer and faithful friend who is willing to do without an organically bloomed romance so it won’t damage the crew’s foundation of friendship. Well, maybe not totally do without— she and her love interest tell all kinds of fibs to shield their affections for one another.
Ruby—Ruben as he wants to be called now that they’re in high school. This kid is hasn’t had his growth spurt, it appears. He’s creative, an organizer, and even does taxes of some relatives of the neighborhood Cholos.
Jamal—a brotha and budding football player (in his parent’s eyes). But the possibility of getting CTE scares him crapless. He’s also a curious investigator and finds an unlikely ally in Ruby’s grandmother to solve a neighborhood mystery.
Cesar—is smart and kind. And struggles to remain loyal to his friends and family. That family loyalty tugs him in a direction where his skills can be of use…. While simultaneously stifling his chances to legally practice his smarts. Monse and Cesar also share a secret that Cesar to spilled to keep her safe, so he says. And Cesar’s family, like I said earlier, is all Choloed up on all sides. He even gets jumped into the family way of life early into the season. Cholo life is part of his family inheritance, and the most poignant line of the first episode is when he said “My family crest is a gang sign.”

Those are the main characters, but there’s also an On My Block version of Felicia. Except her name’s Jasmine and she isn’t a crackhead. She’s just an asthmatic who constantly hits the inhaler to try to keep up with her neighbors who keep trying to ditch her.

Then there’s Abuelita. ¡Dios mio! Okay, so one part of the storyline is Ruby’s quest to get his own room. He finally got it in the first episode after his brother left for college. But it’s always an out-of-reach goal. First he shared with Abuelita and her illuminated escena de Natividad. Then a girl whose parents got deported moved in. And Ruby was suddenly okay with sharing space with his peer. But his mom was like “Nope. You’re bunking with your twin siblings.”

That’s where Olivia enters the scene to provide the second girl in the crew and a slight complication for an already budding intra-squad romance that’s still leaving skid marks on the street because one person keeps trying to hit the breaks on that love.

This show is so corny at times. Just like teen life. Well—at least my teen life was corny. It was also funny, solemn, somber, and FULL of laughs. It takes a blended dramedic look at the individual and collective coming of age stories among a group of childhood friends with surprisingly cheesy humor and moments of surprising gravitas… and reminders that sometimes gangsta life can bring you to a potentially fatal crossroads with folks you’ve known all your life.

This show is highly recommended for that cheesy chuckle humor, surprising predictability coated with 10 inches of dramatic surprise and guttural laughs.

No, the characters hardly look or sound like they’ve stepped into or out of anyone’s hood. But as a person raised in the hood, I can testify with an organ and church tambourine—that when it comes to hood kids, things aren’t always what they seem. A book should never be judged by its cover. They may or may not speak the king’s English with the king’s accent, but who the EFF cares? This is America. There is no king here.

I’m not sure who is the intended audience for this show…but it seems to provide a wider scope of neighborhood kids who are indeed individuals. And this group of individual kids leans toward the nerdy persuasion. They’re not seeking to ascend the popularity stack. They just want to keep their squad intact.

You know, they kind of remind me of my hanging buddies from high school, where there was no rule on how we were supposed to talk, what slang we had to use. We just were. We also had some half-and-half diversity going on. We were a Black and Latino group of friends. Now that I think of it, between the five of us, we were half black, half Latino. Two Mexican-Americans, two African-Americans, and an Afro Latina. And we had good times.

I totally enjoy these corny-dialogue having, nerd-assed hoodlings who are in the hood, but not of the hood. But don’t get it twisted. They are well-versed in the ways, means and norms of how both Cholo and thug life work. Monse, Ruby, Jamal and Cesar don’t totally fit the stereotypical hood mold. And it’s a constant reminder that a lot of hoodlings don’t. (BTW, hoodlings is NOT meant in a disparaging way whatsoever.)

No spoilers—so the end is near

I really don’t want to give away any key points of this season, so I’ll just drop breadcrumbs…

The dialogue may be corny, but clever zingers include Jamal talking to Oscar and replying— “No Shit Cholock!” I had to rewind to make sure I heard what I heard.

One of the OG homies expressed a love for Sherlock Homles. Why? Because. Holmes, homes.

Episode 4: La Negrita Choo-Choo (I almost peed my pants over this one, but you’ll have to see it for yourself.)

What disturbs…

One thing is disturbing to me. Depending on the individual’s experience, this might be real. The season opens and closes with gunshots… which always seem to punctuate dialogue in the wrong places. In this series, and in real life, those bullets can sometimes mean punctuating a life and leaving a fragment instead of a well-crafted sentence that develops into a beautiful story. Hopefully in this case it’s a comma, but season two should reveal whether it’s worthy of a Punchbowl Damn.

The end

When I was looking for a relief for my homesickness, I only wanted the tall trees. Not Ghetto Birds and neighborhood lockdowns. But all in all, I pleasantly received more than I sought, so I do pleasantly and highly recommend On My Block—corny lines and all.

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EPISODE 6 – This Virgin ain’t plain, homely or boring | Interview with Skarlet Beverage Company founders

Life is filled with so much beauty and artistry.
From word play…
To picture play, painter’s creations—whether they be a portrait, landscape, still life.. or walls.
To tapestries hung on a rod or fine linens clothing the insides of a room.
Food—also art.
So is drink.
That’s where my next guests come in–founders of the Skarlet Beverage Company.
They’re bringing some spice to the world of upscale virgin drinks.
I learned about their business on my Facebook page. Full disclosure—I went to school with them… lost track after graduation—and reconnected via Facebook.
If you haven’t heard of Skarlet Beverages… Now you have.

Coming soon. Are you on the list?

A post shared by Skarlet Beverage Company (@skarletbeverageco) on

So how did they get started along this path? Well let’s join a conversation with the couple who’s making it happen–Skarlet Beverage Company founders Dean and Alecia Dennis:


Or listen here:

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Erotic poetry to keep your Valentine steamy all year long–a chat with Rare Epiphany

There’s nothing like good talks with longtime friends.

Those conversations between decades-old pals can sometimes get pretty personal and… adult.

Especially if your friend has written a book of erotic poetry.

If you don’t know, you’re about to find out…about Atlanta-based poet Rare Epiphany.

Order her already-published books here.

Rare/Pam keeps a constant stream of writing activities on her docket.

“I have a cookbook coming, too, as soon as I learn how to measure,” she tells Planet Noun.  “I’m a classic Southern cook. I don’t measure anything. I just sprinkle ’till the spirit of my ancestors say ‘Enough my child.’”

She’s also working on a poetic autobiography and a second book of erotic poetry. Her projects include a collection titled “Think.”

“It’s funny, because the main script for think was done before Soul Kisses was done. I just never released [it]. And I figured there’s a reason for that, so I gotta go back through and try to look through it and figure out what’s going on [with] “Think.”

That project, Rare says, is built on a series of writing challenges.

“I specifically ask people, when I don’t feel like I’m writing enough, I’ll ask for challenges. So it can be a word challenge. Give me 10 words, and I’ll take those 10 words and…build a piece around these 10 words. Or I’ll say give me a song. And I’ll write a poem based on how the song makes me feel, or the story of the song, where it takes me. It can [also] be a quote–something to kind of push a poem out, and that is how a lot of Soul Kisses was written,” Rare adds.

I”m always working on some project or another.  And then I’ll get pulled into another project, and then I’ll get pulled into another project. And sometimes I just need a breather from something like the autobiography,” Rare says, which is psychologically taxing project because it delves into her entire history, which includes being sexually abused as a young girl.

When her pen needs break, she opts for happier writing projects.

“Let me write about rainbows and unicorns and stuff.  Feel good about life,” she muses.

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They want to set you up with a solid stylist and a fly ‘do

Hey there! Happy New Year! Happy Black History Month! Happy Month of Love! Welcome to Planet Noun Episode FOUR.

So this one’s about HAIR.  And a couple of women who saw a void and are working to fill it by creating an app.

It’s called Swivel—and one of their missions is to get folks connected with quality hair stylists.

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Memorable afternoons sans pants

Every so often I really love how I spend an afternoon. Today, I got to observe and follow dozens of people who took part in DC’s 2018 version of The No Pants Subway Ride.

Every year for the past decade or so, DC Improv has hosted its own iteration of the No Pants Subway ride which started in New York in 2002 as a prank by a group of guys.

Now, it’s held in January in several cities around the globe—all on the same day.

And today was cold AF. See, a good portion of the East Coast is trying to wriggle it self free from a cold snap that has gripped it by the throat for the past week or so.

I can’t say I know what it’s like to ride public transportation in my panties. And I can’t say that I will ever find out what that is like. Knowing how I am wired, that probably t’ain’t neva gon’ happen.

But what I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed watching a diverse group of human beings… Of different races, ethnicities, I’m guessing they all held different beliefs, jobs and the like… But as one person I spoke to today told me… They’re all just “weird” enough to do something like this and it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

It was cool to recognize a few faces from last year. Like the blogger from Baltimore, the guy who dressed up as a character from The Walking Dead, and the older gentleman who is a self-described nudist.

And there are the folks I met this year—the roller derby ladies, the man toting a briefcase who was mostly dressed for work except pants, and the woman who participated to celebrate her 45th birthday.

Good times!

Nah, I may never drop my pants to ride Metro in my drawers, but I definitely appreciate folks who have the courage to do so.

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Podcast Episode 3–Bonus: Balikbayan boxes–care packages in reverse

Greetings! Merry post-Christmas, pre-New Year! Here’s a bonus episode of Planet Noun to end the year!

It’s an interview I found so interesting and relevant to the holidays, I couldn’t wait! I adore learning new things, and this was definitely newly-interesting!

Question: What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

When my siblings and I were younger, my parents would always pack a brown paper lunch sack with natural treats…. an apple…an orange… unshelled walnuts, pecans and almonds. One of my parents even snapped a photo of me dancing around our green shag-carpeted living room holding one of those bags on Christmas Day in 19-something-ty something.

That’s an example of a received gift. But what about family traditions surrounding gift-giving to others? What about traditions involving family members who are far away—separated not only by land, but oceans?

Well, I learned something new in this interview with Illinois based photographer and artist Jason Reblando. He wrote a piece for CityLab about special boxes that members of the Filipino diaspora send home each year for Christmas. They’re called balikbayan boxes.

That was Illinois-based photographer and artist Jason Reblando. Find more about what he learned about balikbayan boxes in this piece he wrote for CityLab.

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Podcast Episode 2: Cancer has no couth or sense of timing

Cancer is rude. It doesn’t ask anyone if they want its company, won’t ask you “Hey, can I come on over to your place and hang out for awhile?”

Nope. That would be polite.  (As if you would tell it yes if it did ask–I know I sure wouldn’t.) Cancer just raps on your door, taps on your window pane, and then walks or climbs right into your life. Loud and ill-timed. Of course, there never is a good moment for cancer to come on by. Ever. It just shows up, sits on your couch, puts its muddy shoes on your ottoman,  eats up all the food, hides the TV remote and then doesn’t even bother to help clean up.

If cancer were polite, it wouldn’t be cancer.  It wouldn’t strike fear and apprehension into the hearts and minds of those who must confront it and those who hope it never comes their way.

For Brandi Garrett and her husband, this battle was a family affair. They and their children embarked on this journey when one of their daughters, Madison, received an unwanted diagnosis.  Maddy was three years old when they learned she had cancer… Stage IV.

Listen as Brandi recounts  Madison’s journey:

Thanks for listening to Episode 2: Cancer has no couth or sense of timing.  Here are a couple-more notes to keep in mind:

The Maddy Wagon is active year round.  Visit the website to learn more about the organization started in Madison’s name, and to obtain more information about their yearly gift giveaway –Christmas Maddy Wagons of H.O.P.E., which stands for Happiness, Optimism, Peace and Excitement.

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New Podcast! Episode 1: If you don’t need him, why marry the dude?

So… I decided to start a podcast!

The adage “waste not, want not” applies to Extra Tape from initiative-driven interviews for work that are often recorded on my own time. It’s usually only sound-bites and brief quotes usually see the light of day on air and online. Unfortunately, the result is hearing my angel robe-clad, halo-wearing conscience whispering on both shoulders, in my parents’ voices, reminding me not to waste anything. Food. Money. Audio. It’s all the same.

Hence, this podcast.

So let’s get to Episode 1.

If you’ve ever said “I don’t need a man,” here’s an author who agrees with you… With a slight twist.

Listen here:

Thanks for listening to Planet Noun Podcast!
Learn more about author Carmen Hope Thomas, and her book “Why Marry a Man You Don’t Need,” right here.

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Giants will fall, that’s the way of the world

It’s not going to stop.  It’s the order of things, the circle of this hard life, the order of the world.  Somewhere on earth, seems it’s always a time for the giants to keep falling.  Our elders pass away, take leave of earth—sometimes way too soon—and many are left behind to mourn and remember.

Jerry Lewis (1926–2017) was part of my childhood movie reel.

With all the foolishness that’s going on these chaotic days, it’s good to keep humor in the scabbard of sharpened coping mechanisms to help maneuver through the world with sanity intact.

As a child, Jerry Lewis movies gave me plenty of laughs and taught me that the underdog nerd-guy/person really can win.   And that was music to my soul.  Music I still need to hear every now and again.

I got a kick out of the slapstick comedy, but my favorite scene of all his movies is from “The Patsy.

Can’t say why this portion of the movie tickles my funny bone, and has done so since I was 10 years old or so.  Maybe it’s because the trio wasn’t what I expected.  Don’t know what I expected to see as a 10-year-old, but that sure wasn’t it.

Lewis’ annual telethon to benefit muscular dystrophy is another thing I’ll remember.  I hated telethons as a child, and did all I could to avoid them.  But even so, what stuck with me is that this star-figure, who could be doing anything with his time, chose to raise funds for research to benefit others. Because I hardly ever watched, I never picked up on reasons others weren’t fans of the annual event.

But what cemented Lewis as a funny, but curmudgeonly figure in my mind is this Hollywood Reporter interview.  First of all, I don’t know why someone granted this interview.  He wasn’t having it.  And let the whole world know.  And it made me laugh.  But made me feel for the reporter.

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Using verbal arts to eliminate violence

A reaction to stories I covered for work earlier this week… and a possible solution to a human problem. 

(During a Commute Home)—So my workday was going pretty well, for the most part. And then they sent me to cover the investigation after a shooting. So I drove to the Metro station that straddles the D.C./Maryland line where it happened. Now it wasn’t a gory or bloody area that we could see.  Of course, the police kept us far enough away from the crime scene, which was on board a train car. My guess is that it was to preserve the integrity of that crime scene so they can pick up whatever bits and pieces of evidence, gun shells and casings and you know, maybe bits of hair or fragments of flesh or whatever else it is that they needed in order to complete the investigation.  And they were looking for three suspects. And according to the pictures that I saw, that Metro pushed out, they seem to be pretty young people.  A spokesman for the transit agency told reporters the guy who got shot was a teenager. At that time, I didn’t know exactly how old, if he was a young teen like 13 or 14 or if he was an old teen like 19… That all had to come out in the wash.  And it did.  It still is coming out in an unfortunate wash.

Argument leads to shooting. So cliche. Why couldn’t they have bus(ted)-out in a parking lot rap… Click To Tweet

Continue reading Using verbal arts to eliminate violence

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