My podcast sidekick "Uncle Jimmy" contracted COVID this week. It's been a sobering, frustrating, and disconcerting experience, causing me to float between concern and anger.
Uncle Jimmy isn't my uncle. We share no blood relation. A love of laughter and comedic performance forged our familial bond. Two decades ago, Uncle Jimmy called the morning radio show I hosted in Kansas City under the name "Jimmy the Freak." He wanted to crack a joke about the Kansas City Chiefs, his favorite team. I don't remember the punch line. I remember laughing so hard that I asked the call screener to get Jimmy's phone number the next time he called the show. I wanted the Freak to regularly crack jokes on my show.
That was the beginning of an unlikely working relationship and friendship that quickly turned into a big brother-little-brother connection. Jimmy is six years older than me, but I'm the big brother. He's half my size. Our backgrounds are disparate.
Jimmy had no real relationship with his father. My dad was my idol. After age 9, Jimmy's grandmother raised him. He joined the Marines. He married, divorced, and fathered three daughters by age 30. When I met Jimmy, he worked as a nightclub DJ and sanded hardwood floors. He drank, smoked weed, and caroused excessively. He tagged himself "the Freak" because he reveled in being seen as an inner-city heartthrob and ladies' man. His outlook on and approach to life differed significantly from my own. He believed racism defined his station in life. I told him his actions controlled his destiny and current circumstances.
For the first 10 years of our friendship, we worked flawlessly together on air and battled ferociously over our contradictory worldviews off air. The contradictions made for terrific radio content. Jimmy's stereotypical point of view and life contrasted mightily with my own. I talked (and wrote) with the diction of a college grad. I lived in the suburbs and socialized with the mayor, professional athletes, and the city's business leaders. I was not burdened by the responsibilities of kids and baby mamas. Listeners to my radio show loved the repartee between Jimmy and me but couldn't fully grasp the connection.
Sometimes I couldn't either. Jimmy woke up every day trying to prove his loyalty to his skin color and his loyalty to me for befriending him and giving him an opportunity to elevate his station. Once, at a radio remote, Jimmy tried to fight a radio caller he believed disrespected me.
"You can't let that man disrespect you like that!" Jimmy shouted at me.
"How can someone I have no respect for disrespect me?" I barked back.
The disagreement led to a long come-to-Jesus conversation between Jimmy and me. Like a lot of black men, Jimmy cared way too much about the "respect" of others. I really only care about self-respect.
About six years into our friendship, Jimmy fathered the first of his two sons. That took a toll on our relationship. I nearly gave up on Jimmy. Thankfully, he didn't give up on himself. Those two boys are his greatest blessing and gave him a purpose in life. Living a life in service of those two boys changed Jimmy's worldview and made him a more responsible person.
All this week, I've thought about his two sons, James and Jamil. Where would they be without their dad? How could they make it?
That's why I've floated between concern and anger since Jimmy contracted COVID.
The concern is obvious. I work with Jimmy inside our Nashville studio every day. So do several other people. This weekend, our makeup artist is traveling to Rhode Island to visit family, including her 96-year-old grandmother. She's vaccinated but justifiably paranoid about endangering her grandmother.
I've had friends and family members contract COVID. But Jimmy is the first person I've known with the virus whom I engage with on a daily basis, Monday through Friday. For the past 18 months, I've been reluctant to speak about COVID because I'm not confident in my beliefs.
That's why I'm angry. Politics has compromised information, the medical industry, and the media to the point that no one really knows what to believe or trust when it comes to COVID.
If political correctness forbids us to discuss the virus' origin, why should we believe our government officials are determined to seek causes and cures by any means necessary? Everything feels like political theater and agenda.
Do masks help? Do vaccines work? Should we constantly wash our hands? Or is COVID just a roulette wheel striking its victims at random?
Uncle Jimmy contracted it. I sit at a desk next to him for two hours, five days a week. He's at home coughing and battling a fever. I'm sitting at work fantasizing about a Snickers candy bar.
Which brings me to my main point of anger. I'm angry with myself. The only thing I truly believe is that I'm in control of my destiny, and I've jeopardized my destiny by being extremely irresponsible with my health.
Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. I've been in a lifelong fight with gluttony. I've won some battles, but I'm losing the war. I've loved everything about my move from Los Angeles to Nashville a year ago except the impact it's had on my diet. Music City rekindled my love affair with fried food. The move south slowed the momentum I built addressing my weight problem.Uncle Jimmy's COVID fight snapped me back to reality. He's the most loyal friend I've ever had. It feels like he took the coronavirus bullet for me. I have to repay him, myself, and the rest of my family and friends by winning my war with gluttony.