Monday, December 21, 2009

I’m 46 today. I haven’t worn baggies in 30 years. And I still don’t pimp walk.

"Ain't nothing like a fresh pair of baggies," Morris Day of The Time sang, in a popular 80s song. That was my mantra in high school, too. Baggies were a style of pants kids wore back in the day. Don’t confuse them with the sagging, thug-style pants kids wear today. Baggies were dressier. Inspired by the zoot-suit style pants of the 20s, baggies were usually pleated at the waist, extra roomy in the leg, narrow at the ankle. They were worn high on the belly, sometimes with wide suspenders. I had a pair in every color of the rainbow — slacks and jeans.

The summer before my senior year, my uncle took a buddy of mine and I to Kansas City to purchase baggies at Harold Pener, an urban men’s wear store. The pants were sold at stores in Des Moines, too. But we wanted baggies like no one else had. We wanted big-city baggies!

When we arrived in Kansas City, my uncle got out the car and led the way into the store. He walked with a strut. A "pimp walk," as we used to call it. That’s where you stick your chest out, skip-step one foot forward, twisting at the waist. Then s-l-o-w-l-y drag your other foot forward while bouncing your head like you’re listening to James Brown. It’s a slow and artful cadence. Don't try this out in public if you ain't cool, you'll look like a dweeb.

My friend snickered, reached over and poked me in the back and then pointed ahead. My uncle wore a cheap pair of sneakers. His green warm-up suit was a size too tight, with one pant leg rolled up to his knee. He topped-off this outfit an apple hat, his salt-and-pepper afro jutting out in every direction, like it wanted to escape from the scene.

"Your uncle looks like he works for some kind of senior citizen pimp squad," my friend said, laughing.

I didn't laugh. Well, maybe I did, I was 17.

My uncle was a well-known barber, the coolest of cool dudes in the Black community. I loved him. He had a slightly oversized belly, just like his dad, my grandpa. It stuck out beyond his body, even though he wasn't an overweight man. He was in his mid 40s, but had been ageless to me up until that second.

For the first time, I began to see my uncle as an old man. Wrinkles suddenly appeared on his face. His salt-and-pepper gray hair suddenly got saltier. His pimp walk wasn’t so cool. I promised myself I'd never grow old, or at least not look old. I'd stay in shape. Never get an oversized belly. Never let my hair go grey. I'd always dress in the current styles of the day. And I’d never, ever, pimp walk.

Fast forward almost 30 years. I stopped at a convenience store after dropping my son off at school. When I got out of my car, guess who I saw in the window of the store: My uncle. An older Black man with graying hair, wearing a warm-up suit (one leg rolled up), cheap sneakers. I laughed out loud because it wasn't my uncle after all. It was me last month. That 17-year-old kid would not have approved.

Today's my birthday. I'm 46-years-old. One year past 45. Closer now to 50, than 40. I'm a grandfather, too, with three grandchildren. Four, possibly five or six, if my daughter doesn't slow down soon.

I'm OK with being 46. I'm still here, alive and kicking. All of my body pieces still work. I have a wonderful family, a career that I love, a bright future. And I have friends, too. I've never been able to say that until recently.

I do struggle with the belly-thing. My pant size is at 33, down from 34 at my largest. But I'm in better shape now than that 17 year-old kid who wore a size 27 baggie, smoked cigarettes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and never worked out a day in his life. I’m good. And I’ve never pimp walked.