The Giver Series I: The Death of John Fernandez

John Fernandez (left), me (right), circa 1997
John Fernandez (left), me (right), circa 1997, Photo courtesy of Jason James

Asaan Brooks a.k.a. Swamburger a.k.a. Swam, 1/4 of Solillaquists of Sound, rapper, artist, skateboarder, writer, teacher, student, community organizer, and entrepreneur. I met Asaan when I was a senior in high school. 1998: putting a show together that never happened, illuminati, Jason’s Moms gave me a couple Dr. Malachi Z. York books, Saul Williams in the film Slam Nation debuting at the Florida Film Festival, Patrick Scott Barnes features Beau Sia at his open mic, Ras Kass released the classic album Soul On Ice the year before, putting down the basketball, rediscovering my forgotten favorite past time, sk8ing. At this point I’m starting to believe that I already have a microchip implanted behind my ear. Badlands Skate Park is alive in Orlando. I never knew we had that many talented pushers. Some kids younger than me doing switch hard flips to k-grinds on handrails. Going to the park almost daily with John Fernandez, “You gotta meet this kid Asaan from Chicago. You two remind me a lot of each other. It’s weird that you guys haven’t met already? Kid does inward switch kick flips on the incline. He’s dope with the frees and strictly makes his money selling his music and paintings. Dude could sell ice to an Eskimo.” For a half an hour John went on about this kid, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I know this kid is gonna blow up.”

Up until I left for college, John was my homie, at times inseparable. 10pm, Friday, shorties at the Altamonte Mall, niggas rolling to Church Street, popular mcwhitey prep kids having their elite house parties, “Yo let’s session Lohmen’s Plaza,” John says to me over the phone. Getting dressed to impress my brother’s porno mags and go no where, “Naw man, I’m chilling at the crib tonight,” I said, knowing I’m waiting for my boy to get off work so we can go window shopping for girls at Lauren’s pool party. 10:15pm, John is banging on my window, “Let’s go…” he said, looking at me in the eye, forcing me to Squirm. John was either geeked about breathing when he had a job, plans to go back to school, plots for future road trips or he was heated, shuffling livid dirt on moments he thought required unflinching rage. But he was also the kind of kid that would fight for you, even if money just stepped on your shoes or blinked at your girl. He had a chemical imbalance, fly off the handle, and give me the shirt off his back if I was cold. Leave you in the middle of nowhere, drive off and come back an hour later stoic status. Pride battling Mikie Rosa, force you to watch 411 vids for hours, wake you up if you’re dozing. He could break down any trick, knew which pros/amateurs skated goofy or regular. He could remember what combinations Kareem Campbell did in Trilogy. He knew the names of all the famous skate spots from NYC to Orange County just by watching vids or reading Transworld (before Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or the net). Brotha was unconsciously dedicated and blindly in love with three things: skateboarding, music and cooking on his George Foreman grill. He was wild no doubt, loco. “What?” I’d say in confusion, asking myself if we really had a conversation on the phone 15 minutes ago? Did I some how say yes when I really meant no? “Taylor is waiting in the car. We’re going to this indoor parking lot. They got marble benches. C’mon, I got new Powell Swiss bearings for you. Dan hooked me up in exchange for working a couple hours at the Skate Park.” Thinking to myself, “Ieee could work on my front side heel flip to 50-50, just about got that shit down.” All Night Session. John would always clap after every trick attempted or landed.

John, latch-key-kid, got the classic “shit deal.” Divorced parents treated him like a burden. Native American mom lived by her self. Pizza boxes stacked head high on top of the garbage can. Wine, chat rooms, on line dating (a computer never stepped foot in my house and I knew few friends that owned one). Portuguese dad, porcelain grin, quite, dated, alone…I think he played golf or some game that required silence.

Yeah, John a.k.a. Dejon introduced me to Asaan. The first time we met was predictably at Badlands, it was discussing “Nature Of The Threat” for 3 hours. something something, other ramblings like Catholics and Egyptians worshiping cats hence the sphinx and cat-holic, “holy cats,” blahzey blahzey. On November 25th(1491) there were also other important events that also occurred besides:

Santiago defeats the last Muslim stronghold, Grenada
King Ferdinand gave thanks to God for victory and the Pope of Rome
and declared this date to forever be
A day of Thanksgiving for all European Christians

-Now listen, “When you celebrate Thanksgiving,
what you are actually celebrating
is the proclamation of the Pope of Rome who later in league with Queen Isabella,
sent Cardinal Ximenos to Spain
to murder any blacks that resisted Christianity.
These Moors, these black men and women were from Baghdad, Turkey
and today, you eat the turkey, for your Thanksgiving day
as the European powers destroyed the Turkeys
who were the forefathers of your mothers and fathers.
Now fight the power, you bitch-ass niggaz!”
-Ras Kass, “Nature of the Threat”

At the time, John and Asaan were two of the realist niggas I ever met in my life. Asaan, South Side, Chicago, ready to run reality’s pockets. Meanwhile, John, plotting home invasions, some successful, but it only took one to stop him after bucking shots in a stranger’s backyard from whom he’d just stole a shot gun and $1500, arrested. These kids were hungry, starving for rather ultra positive or ambiguously bad/good, not blind mickey mouse prozac fantasy trips to work, green patches with timed sprinklers, slow walking, bad driving, dumb ass kids doing wip-its. Not kids who moved from up North trying to treat Orlando like East New York. Not kids born and raised in the south pretending like they New Yorkers like myself.

John hung himself on October 26, 2004. He was 23. If I wasn’t too busy chasing ghosts and holding company with the concrete jungle’s wild life, may be it wouldn’t have taken me 7 months to contact Rolando to find out my brotha had passed. Asaan says, “Fuck him.” All that hard work and time put into music, meditated conversations, advice, near fights, revelations, all day skate sessions, tricks learned amongst each other… “and he gon go do something stupid like that? What he didn’t know was, that song (“Grains of Sand,” Beef Wellington, Cultural Starvation Vol. 1) went world wide.” Asaan switch half cab front side heel flip…Me, pop shuv-it Albertson’s 5 set. John, huge switch kick flip Barnett Bank 6 set.

Asaan driving his old beat up green Honda hunch back, his animated facial expressions, breaking down ads, orders and prisons, colt 45 molt liquor, colt 45 a gun, the 4th letter in the alpha bet was “d,” the 5th was “e,” 4+5=9, the 9th was “I,” 4, 9, 5=D-I-E. Asaan’s left hand speed racer navigating the steering wheel, his right, sculpting theories saturated with related variables, examples and executions. While me, the passenger, my mind steady recording. I ask questions directly correlating with my current struggles (my own modern Letters to a Young Poet), then objective wonders that either battle him or piss him off. All worth the wide range dynamics that is Asaan Brooks.

Originally posted circa 2005.

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