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  • 1. DARIUSand the Vanilla Funk By Phil Wohl

2. CHAPTERS Lost and Found Candy Man My Name Is Partners in CrimeMr. Cohen Can Play Breakfast in Desk Elements of the Universe Thug's Life Court's In Session Jersey BluesShot In the Dark Limping Through Life Second Chance Blame It on the Funk1 3. Lost and Found My father was gunned down when I was fiveyears old. Seeing him lying there in that coffin was sospooky that the image has haunted me my whole life. Inever had the chance to say goodbye to him andbarely even had the opportunity to say hello.Being an undercover cop had its advantages formy dad, Dennis Mitchell. He grew up in Oakland,California in the late 1960s as a member of the BlackPanthers.The Panthers were the black communitysanswer to oppression and injustice. In the early 1970she moved from the city by the bay to Harlem, NewYork.The purpose of this exodus was to bolster thePanthers presence in New Yorks premier AfricanAmerican community.A few years after he arrived at 135th Street, dadmet my mother, Angela, at a Panther rally. A year laterthey had Malcolm, their first child, who was named2 4. after Malcolm X. Shortly after Malcolm arrived in theworld, Dennis Mitchell married Angela Baines. With theglory days now fading in the glow of Harlem, my familypicked up and moved to a new community on LongIsland called Branchville. With the promise of a newcareer in law enforcement waiting for my dad and anew house to live in, the family had come a long wayfrom the tension-filled, big city streets. My parents had three more kids in seven years,ending in the early 1980s, as Rosa, Martin, and finallyJulia were brought into the world. Rosa was named forRosa Parks; Martin got his name from Martin Luther Ling;and Julia was coined in love for Diahann Carrolls TVcharacter bearing the same name. With four kids andbarely enough room for everyone in the house, mymoms baby making days seemed to be over. A decade went by and the family was flourishing.My dad worked his way up the ranks and out of the3 5. shadows and dangers of undercover work into acoveted position of Captain. After his last undercoveroperation in the early 1990s, he and my mom spent afew days getting reacquainted. Nine months later, Iwas born with the name Darius Theo Mitchell.Thename Darius was an original concoction, but Theo wastaken directly from the son on The Cosby Show, who Igrew to appreciate by watching Nick At Night reruns. Being an Oops! baby didnt exactly give me theexplosive head start I needed in life. The oneadvantage I did have was that my dad was around alot more than he was when my brothers and sisterswere growing up. Working nine to five instead of beingaway from the family weeks at a stretch left my dadwith a lot of free time. Luckily, I was the immediatebeneficiary of that extra time. My dad must have felt some guilt about nothaving spent so much quality time with my brothers4 6. and sisters. He would take me to the park when I wasreal small, and then we went to a few basketballgames together once I was out of diapers. By the timeI realized who my father was and what he meant tome, he was gone. I heard people talking about anold score that a few local drug dealers wanted tosettle with him. Seems that dad had infiltrated theiroperation and the dealers served about ten years ofhard time for their indiscretions. I still remember the night he left us like it wasyesterday. We had just walked back from watchingBranchville High School beat its archrival Pritchett HighSchool in a basketball game. Branchville High wasdown the block from our house and so was the localelementary school I was going to attend the followingyear. As we were walking into the house my dad toldme to go inside, and he went to set up the lawnsprinkler in front of the house. 5 7. Just as my mom asked me about the game, weheard the roar of an engine barreling down the street.My dad must have heard it too, because he wasreaching for the gun in his ankle holster before the carhad approached our house. His nine-millimeter was nomatch for the machine guns these guys were packing.Instead of trying to run into the house and jeopardizehis family, Dennis Mitchell became a hero on his frontlawn. The sprinkler he just turned on washed awaymuch of the blood trickling out of his new holes, butfailed to wash away the memories of my main man: mydad. The pain of my fathers death extended waybeyond my little head; my mother received a hugesum of money from the state and the policedepartment. She proceeded to live the good life andleave me behind. The subsequent virtual passing of my6 8. mother exacerbated the grief of losing my father. Shehad no time or energy left for me and I was on my own. The years rolled by between kindergarten and theend of fourth grade.Being a kid that was alwayssurrounded by women of color at home, it was asurprisingly easy transition to be bossed around by abunch of uptight white ladies at school. The sound of awomans voice seemed to connect to some sort ofobedience mechanism in my brain. Conversely, thesound of a mans voice never made it past the outerreaches of my ears. It would sound interesting to saythat male speech went in one ear and out the other,but the noise was deflected even before it had achance to be processed. I was like a wild Mustang running with no sense ofcontrol or purpose. Once my sister Julia graduatedfrom Branchville High School, she was home about asoften as my mom. Being a fourth grader with a key 7 9. and an empty house gave me license to do just aboutanything I damned pleased. My life had come a longway from park strolls and basketball games with mydad. Looking back on my life in those days is oftenpainful and a constant reminder of the person I mighthave become -- the person I might have become if notfor Mr. C. Lucas Cohen picked up where my dad leftoff. He cared about me even after I no longer caredabout myself. What I had lost he had found. What Ihad forgotten he had remembered. What I couldntsee he clearly stated. Without Mr. C I would no longerbe living on this earth. I would have been just anotherpunk who had a death wish. Dying time will come, butI have plenty of living to do before that fateful day.8 10. Candy Man The summers are really hot and humid in NewYork. The humidity clings to your body like a soppingwet t-shirt. The heat also has a way of turning boredominto trouble for the small, deviant minds of ten year-oldboys. My crew and me were growing and we werebad, in every sense of the word. I used to hang out with two guys one guys namewas Edgar Ellison, or Easy E as we called him; the otherdude was simply known as Beast this brother was aswild as he was strong. I was never really sure of his fullname because we didnt go to the same school. Infact, I dont even know if he went to school. Someoneonce told me his name was Harold, but I didnt darecall Beast by his formal name in fear that I would getbeat down. My nickname was D Mitch, but Beast justcalled me D.9 11. Easy E, Beast, and me made quite the trio oftrouble. I was the brains, Easy E had arms like anoctopus, and Beast was the muscle in case we got introuble. Beast always had some level of protection forus when we walked around; he carried anything from ascrewdriver to a piece of broken glass but we alwaysknew we were safe when he was around. One liquid August afternoon we took our usualstroll up to the Korean market about half-a-mile frommy house. We had a few close calls with the owner ofthe store, but enjoyed the challenge that the marketpresented us. This guy had seen every trick in the book;he even saw through my distraction tactics of askingquestions while my friends use their five-finger discountsto get us some snacks. We were out of tricks and out of money, but wewere going to try to rob the vault with little more thanspeed, strength, and my devious mind. It was about 10 12. 100 degrees outside and it had to be at least 110 insideof the store. I was tempted to crawl inside of the smallsoda refrigerator just to get some relief from the heat.The three of us worked the store pretty good stuffingdrinks and chips in our pants and shirts. We were aboutto leave when this huge white guy walked in, blockingany sun that was beaming through the swinging frontglass door. I thought Larry Birds entrance would be thediversionary tactic that we needed to escape, so Imotioned over to E and Beast that it was time to go.We quickly shuttled toward the door but were blockedby the owner, Mr. Morioto, who somehow had beatenus to the door. I swear I never saw the man move buthe was so quick that any escape attempt on our partseemed pointless. Morioto yelled, You punks rob mefor last time! I call police! E said, Easy, Mr. Miyagi, 11 13. making a reference to the wise Asian man in TheKarate Kid. Just as Beast was about to pull somethingdangerous from his pocket, the big white dude spoke.Excuse me, sir. I just wanted to pay for all of our stuff.He looked at me and said, Bring all of your stuff uphere so we can get back to school. My friends and Ilooked at each other in shock as we slowly moved upto the front counter. Mr. Morioto said to the man,What are you doing with hoodlums? The white guyresponded, Theyre n my class as part of a summerprogram. Im sorry I should have told you when wewalked in. He then nodded at me like he wanted toknow my name. I whispered, Darius. He then said,Darius, make sure you and the guys get a few candybars, too.We dont want you guys running out ofenergy this afternoon. We have a lot of work to do. 12 14. We grabbed three or four candy bars each untilthe white man gave us a look and put up two fingers.He then asked Mr. Morioto for a lottery ticket and thengave it back to him once it was printed, That ticket isfor you. Thank you for your help. Cmon guys, lets go. We left the store and walked toward the mansblue PT Cruiser; he got in the car, rolled down hiswindow, looked at us seriously and said, Next ti