“Can it be that it was all so simple then…”
Timeless words from the illustrious Gladys Knight. Indeed I often wonder how times could’ve changed the way that they have. People, values, technology, the world… evolution has proven itself to be both magnificent and frightening. Most of these changes have affected everyday life in its most minute aspects, for better or for worse. Needs, priorities, expectations are definitely not what they used to be. Among other things, we’ve become very materialistic, and that can complicate even the simplest of actions, like getting someone a gift.
I was never really big on giving presents. Birthdays, Christmas and all the other holidays where some sort of gesture was expected annoyed me. It was only well into my adult life (my thirties), that I began to truly understand and enjoy the symbolism of gifting. Even then, it couldn’t be done without a certain application. I mean, if I was going to do it, it had to be done right. I would spend months listening to the recipient, studying the recipient, becoming the recipient. Only then, would I be certain to select the perfect gift. Believe it or not, gifting wasn’t always an exercise of meditation and human study.
My mother was born and raised in Haiti. In ‘74, after getting married, she moved to Canada with her husband, my father. She had a few good and dear friends that were left behind but for some, the separation would be short lived. One of those friends (let’s call her Mary), had a son (let’s call him Charles). Needless to say, Charles and I pretty much grew up together. There were a couple of long periods when we lost sight of one another (as a consequence of our mothers losing sight of one another), but ultimately, we always found our way back.
During one of these hiatuses, hip hop managed to sneak its way into our lives so naturally, when Charles and I touched base around 1990, we had a whole lot to talk about. We both had dived into rap head first, and as we took our sweet time to get out of these waters, we discovered diverse musical treasures, just waiting to be plucked by our eager ears. Truthfully, after a couple of years, Charles came up for air and decided to remain on dry land. Me, I stayed in the water, so much so that after a couple of decades I developed gills, thick scalelike skin, webbed fingers and toes… but that’s another story for another time…
“ … So simple then…”
Birthdays and Christmases with Charles were indeed beautifully simple. Please keep in mind that the time I’m referring to was 25 years ago so obviously, I don’t remember all the details. What I do remember are two instances, where I got him what he most wanted in the whole wide world: rap tapes. And not just any rap tapes ladies and gentlemen: on the first occasion I got him EPMD’s Unfinished Business; on the second occasion I got him L.L. Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out. We had a ritual. I’d go to his place or he’d come to mine. We would listen to the cassette from beginning to end; make a double of it (because whoever gave the album had to be able to go home with a copy of it); read the entire credits (and lyrics if they happened to be included), and listen to the album from front to back for a second time. Why listen to it twice in a row right away?
Because I had to be able to give the fellas at school a full report the next morning.
This was extremely important work, and people were counting on me!
As I mentioned before, after a short while, Charles gravitated towards different sounds and completely let go of rap. In his defense, he still displayed remarkable musical taste throughout the years.
As I was writing this piece I caught myself wondering if I’d wasted Unfinished Business and Mama Said Knock You Out on this deserter. Then, I remembered his smile when L.L first told him that “cars ride by with the boomin system”.
Gratitude for a great gift.
Alright Charles, you got me, I forgive you sir.