Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Master Kim felt completely bewildered by the actions and activities of the people on the bus, but he didn't allow his feelings to show.
The young White couple at the back of the bus, kissing and feeling on each other. The shame he felt about their conduct was transmitted to the other Koreans on the bus, who informed him with a glance ... this is not Korea, this is America, this is the way they are.
Master Kim bowed his head in thought. Riding the bus for a month was his idea.
I want to get to know the people. In Korea there are only Koreans, here there are many different kinds of people. When I open the doors of my dojang and they come, I must know who they are, how they are, what they think.
I have never had a conversation with a Mexican, a Black, Filipino.... I must know them, they will be coming to Tosan dojang.
Master Kim's relatives and those friends who had been in Los Angeles for years before he decided to see "this America," simply smiled and bowed.
One could not tell an 8th Dan in their national martial art form, Tae Kwon Do, what to do, and how to do it. They all bowed discreetly and offered hint their advice concerning the different kinds of people he would be likely to meet.
No one could possibly prepare him for the madness that he was likely to experience during the course of his one month trip around town.
Daily he set out from his apartment in Koreatown to ride the busses. Sometimes (using his monthly bus pass) he rode the Wilshire bus west as far as it would go, or east. And the Vermont bus south, as far as it would go. Or the Western Avenue bus. Or one of the others.
It took a full week of being constantly shocked by the anti- social behavior of the people for him to relax; why did the people rush and push each other to board the bus? Why did they frown so much? Why were the people so... so isolated from each other?
Why did the young African-American men, good potential for Tae Kwo Do, disrespect everyone so badly?
One afternoon, on the westbound bus to Venice, two Black men, maybe fifteen sixteen years old, screamed dirty words, pounded on the seats in the back of the bus, told obscene stories to each other, obviously begging others to listen in on their misery. Master Kim felt like crying. What kind of pain would produce people to behave in such a fashion?
He made a special effort to listen to them, to try to understand what was forcing them to misbehave so badly.
Why would they put their shoes into the seats that other people would be sitting in?
They had no respect for others. They had no respect for themselves. He wasn't gang sophisticated enough to determine if they were doing what they were doing because they had to, or because they had been driven to that nebulous nihilism that sells self destruction.
I must work on the African American youth.... I must teach them to control their anger.
The straight out crazies were much more complicated for him to relate to. First off, Master Kim's English language skills were not way up there, and many of the English warbling crazies could sometimes ensnare him, emotionally, with their convoluted, psycho Babylonized mush chat, before he realized where they were.
He "talked" to one poor, homeless, obese, drastically sexually abused African American teenager (maybe) for fifteen consecutive bus stops before he realized that the youngster needed more help than he could possibly offer.
The types of madnesses running around freely distressed and disturbed him. How can they allow people who are completely crazy to ride the bus?
The clothes, the tattoos, the craziness made him feel very sad, but the attitudes of the people made him feel even worse. Some were "normal" people who could see the bright side of life, but most seemed to be bogged down by personal demons....
Maybe he was ready for Darrilyn when she came.
"Good morning, Sir."
The brightness of the greeting, the open flavor of the woman's voice startled him.
"Ahhh, good morning.”
They rode side by side, exchanging obliquely pleasant smiles. Master Kim was intrigued by the young woman's attitude vibe.
She is obviously someone who has a healthy regard for herself. Master Kim decided to make an effort to use his whiplash English.
"This is nice day, you think?”
“0 yes, certainly. Any day that gives us an opportunity to begin breathing is a nice day, to put it mildly."
Master Kim puzzled over the flow of her words and came to the conclusion that she was saying something he agreed with.
"My English, you know, not good.”
"Ohhh, don't worry about it," she announced in high gliding tones. "This is America, no one speaks good English here."
He nodded to her, a smile creasing his face. This is a nice person.
"Where going?" he asked, feeling more confidence in his language skills.
"It could be here. It could be there. I'm just riding. And what about you, where are you going?"
“I am also here and also there."
They laughed aloud at the joke they shared and shook hands. Master Kim felt a certain kind of awkwardness, shaking a woman’s hand, especially one who was younger than himself, but in America, do as the Americans.
Block after block they talked, exchanging ideas, points of view. He was delighted to know that she knew something about Tae Kwon Do.
"Hand and foot way, a very interesting way to look at the world. I have had several clients who studied this art."
“And you, the astro logist, I like this also.”
Language was left far behind their relationship to each other. They could feel that, the people around them could feel the vibe, Master Kim studied the woman's hands, her feet, the beauty of her neck and ears, the positive way she sat in her seat.
She was the first woman from another race that he had ever felt attracted to. But she seemed so Asian. Perhaps one of her parents was an Asian.
"Well, this is where I get off."
He stared at her, stunned by her declaration.
"Here, you are getting off."
"Yes,” she answered him and moved quickly to the exit.
Master Kim felt like leaving the bus with her, but he had not been invited and he didn't want to lose face. He looked at her as she stood at the exit door, waiting for the bus to stop, wishing that he could invent a reason for being with her a little longer.
She dipped into her Kente cloth bag and pulled out a card as they shuddered to a halt
"Here, this is my card. Get in touch with me if you wanna have your chart done."
He studied the name for a few seconds, to familiarize himself with the sound, and bowed in her direction. Darrilyn was gone.
Click On: "Bone Daddy's Journey"
How did it begin? Well, to be gloriously honest with you, I don't know. That is to say, I don't know how it began, but I do know when it began. It began in nineteen hundred 'n 88.
In nineteen hundred ‘n 88, in search of Heaven inspired rhythms, the elusive sound of the reddest chord ever played, and a woman named Self-Determination (the Nguzo Saba has the key to this translation code), I flew nervously to Oakland.
All might have been cool if I had only sub-leased my apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Chan, after ten years of hard Berimbau listening, would have granted my every wish. I was still paying the lowest rent for a trendy area apartment, solely on the basis of me being "Bone Daddy."
"0, please don't worry about prosaic stuff, you are destined to pay us the six months back rent soon. Go about your business, we are not worried about you.”
That's the way it was between me and my landlords. Could anything be better? I mean, when you have that sort of understanding between you and your landlord ... Hello!
I invited Tabula, Donna, Cedric, Synthia St. James (subsequently famous for designing a U.S. postage stamp), Waheed, 'Bridge, Henrique, Eliana, D.J., Willie, Nancy Cox, Amde, Richard and Otis (the Persuasions of the poetic world) and hundreds of other well meaning spirits to share my "going out.”
Bottom line: I gave up my apartment. Never more would my sexually conservative neighbors (Italians who screamed "fuck you" out of their second floor windows at each other, next door Armenian incestists, Chinese puritans) have to redface me the next day, after listening, horrified, no doubt, to the screams of histrionically inclined African Americans. Or wonder what the hell I had done with the trio of Brazilian sisters who had done a midnight session with me. And followed me, loaded on cachasah and empadao, to continue the play.
Nor would I have to subtly subtitle for the Chans, my landlord friends, after evenings filled with music from the Corrida, female circumcision ceremonies, Afro Cuban Santeria rites and the blues from a few brothers who had paid their dues in Angola (not the country, the prison in Louisiana).
Gave it up. Never thought I'd have any need for the place anymore after Self-Determination.
We were going to call it, "This Time.”
What it spelled out was quite clear to me. I, "Bone Daddy," had declared an end to my boning. That's how highly I thought of Self Determination. And still do. Ase.
The chords, red and blue, and some that I would never be able to describe were there. The Heaven inspired rhythms were there. Some of them resembled earthquakes ("and did the Earth move for you, Bone Daddy?"). But a lot of other goodies were blocked by Self-Determination's self-righteous rigidity and brutal insensitivity. The danger zone was curved.
None of these qualities were apparent to me when I made myself apartment-less and flew nervously to Oakland. It took months to discover the cause of my night sweats, why my molars were grinding themselves to nubs, why my stomach was churning before and after the Heaven inspired rhythms had played out.
It didn't matter to her, these feelings, for her, the control freak, all that really mattered was that I obey the will of self determined Self-Determination.
Little bit like a religious fanatic who asks very few questions but has all the answers. I felt trapped. The boning was bon, no doubt about that, but there are times when even the bon of boning won’t cover up for what's bad. I began to plot my escape.
Most of the exits were barricaded with sex furniture, promises, visions, sinsemilla reasoning, concepts that meant a lot, even if they weren't carried out to the letter.
We wanted “This Time" to be the real time, we really did. We were both seasoned vets of the emotional wars, with hundreds of wounds (and wounded) in our files and felt a serious need to have “This Time" be "The Time."
For two long hill dipping years we tried. The bookmakers in Oakland libeled me a dark horse, maybe the darkest, and pushed the odds up to a hundred to one against the dark horse limping across the finish line.
Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese mystic, is the one who wrote, "We should love what is between us, not each other." Well, that might've been good advice for a lot of lovers, but for me and Self Determination, there was too much between us.
I doubt if I spent one whole week without staring into the abscessed eyes of one of her ex men, they were everywhere. Well, I guess that was to be expected. After all, I had moved onto her turf. I was between them and her.
Frequently, I scrapped my escape plan because the music had been exceptionally groovy that night (morning, afternoon, mid-afternoon, evening, mid evening, dawn, midnight, whenever we got into the groove) and I just couldn't see myself straying too far from the magic of her music.
Frequently, my escape plans were foiled by the deeply felt circumnavigations of the self determined head. There were moments when I could almost say that she held me captive by the powers of her mind, head.
Matters finally came to a head, I guess I could say, on a trip we made to a conference in the San Bernardino mountains. After the conference, on the way down, appropriately, I made an instant decision.
"Drop me at my friend's house in Torrance.”
“You’re not going back with me?"
So, there I was in Torrance with $75 and the clothes on my back. I was free. Free of the delicious tortures inflicted deliberately (and accidentally), free of the tyranny of a love that was too tough, bent, warped and shaped by previous investors.
My whole body felt that it was being pulled, magnetized to her cherry red vehicle as it shot away from the curb, and at the same time, absurdly a weight was suddenly lifted from my head.
I spent two years in my friend's garage, sleeping on a mattress that was piled on layers of cardboard and newspapers. "Bone Daddy's nest,” one of my girlfriends called it.
Of course, I had to trip back and forth to Oakland a few times to grab a couple leftover boxes and have my pleasure pan singed. So much danger, so much. I was never certain that I was going to be able to escape again, until the last second.
But I did pull away, the cruel thoughts of what I had endured shot me straight back to Torrance.
From 1990 to 1992, I wrote books and I read books. I will never be able to say how many books I wrote or read. There were evenings, during the rainy season, with the droplets on the roof sounding like Tito Puente, when I wrote two five hundred paged novels. Two...
My dream time was unaltered, left intact. My friend didn't really care what I was doing in the garage, and I didn't really care what he was doing in the house. We came together for conversations and to watch one of his favorite t.v. shows in the evening.
(Never could figure out what was supposed to be so appetizing about "The Love Connection.” But, hey, what do I know?)
I felt like a special kind of Monk; maybe I had drifted away from the Major Vehicle to something that might be called a "garage monk,” definitely an off shoot of one of the major sects.
During the course of the day, my friend at work, with no one to distract my focus, I did five things.
I walked about a mile (of long, long Torrance auto-designed blocks) to this huge, neighborhood park for my morning Capoeira workout. Capoeira workout. What's that? Stretching, moving, kicking, sweating for an hour. Homes, with the good jelly feeling in your upper body, the tight urge to kick in the legs. Home for a ritual shower, hot and then cold.
Write. I would write about what I was writing, write what I was writing, write what I was going to write. Write.
Read. Once a week I staged a guerrilla raid on the Torrance Library and came away with treasures that they didn't know they had.
“A survey of African dances? Are you sure we have that?"
"About 92%, seems likely that someone has written something like that. Check your computer."
And, after surveying/reading as much as I could possibly read about the dances of Africa, I would write some more. Some of this writing may have been very good, I don't know. I simply wrote and let whatever was going to happen to it happen.
Some of it got published, some of it didn't get published. Some of it I'm still writing....
In the garage, I sometimes spent days sprawled on "Bone Daddy's Nest," staring up at the gorgeous spider webs that emblazoned the garage ceiling. I spent days not moving my lips, other then to say "Hello" and/or "Goodbye.”
I would be pushing the envelope (uugghh, hate that term) to suggest that this was a deliberate thing. I think it was simply about what it was about. There was no one to talk to or anybody to talk about somebody with. So why talk?
(Sat at Lake Merritt, in Oakland, California, this past Wednesday, June 5, 1997, talking with my friend, Lena Slachmuijlder, who had just pulled in from Accra, Ghana.
She was giving me loads of help to try to help Grace Appiah, the woman I love, to secure a visa.)
As we talked, Ishmael Reed strolled past. He may have been exercising in his exercise clothes. No telling. Ishmael is a strange dude. He looked at me and recognized me, and I looked at him and recognized him. We exchanged salutes -- "Uhh ugh.” Or something like that.
Lena didn't know who he was and I couldn't immediately think up enough titles to explain to her why he is considered "an important Black writer.” I wouldn't've been able to explain why he was important. Or considered Black. Or a writer (by some, in any case).
It had something to do with what went through me on a daily basis in my friend's garage. It wasn't an easy time, those two years. I don't know if Africa was calling me before I moved into the garage, or if Self Determination had intercepted the previous phonings.
In another man's garage the call became quite insistent. Africa was calling. Specifically, Ghana, West Africa. The drumming (why was I always playing somebody's conga, or buying one or two? Or going to worship Armando Peraza, Mongo Santa Maria, Carlos "Potato" Valdez, Julito Collazo, Modesto Duran, Papito, Francisco Aquabella, Totico and all the others?). The sounds of the languages they speak has always been clear to me despite a serious effort to prevent us from relating to, learning about or knowing Africa. The first time I heard a prayer in Yoruba, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. And then my head. The Ga took me straight to about six centuries of Jazz that I'd never understood.
I could easily see the separate headlines in the mainstream newspapers. "Ga, a Ghanaian language, has made Bone Daddy understand Jazz much mo' betta'.”
My uncles; Africa could explain my four uncles, including Uncle Sweet Milk. And maybe offer me a linchpin clue to why my Daddy was as wild as he was, and called "Honey.”
In addition to that, conglomerations of people who had gone to Africa, kept going to Africa, and who were always talking about what it was. Plus the spiritual vibes that have been shaking me out of deep sleeps all of my life.
"Come on Over1 the waters are swimmable.”
This couple that I had known in Los Angeles were now living in a section of Accra called Osu and they had a spare bedroom. The call became a siren in the night. Yeahhh, go to Ghana, see what that's about....
The couple had never been intimate friends, but we had hung out on some of the same artistic fringes, so I felt at ease. I felt I knew her a little better than I knew him, but it didn't matter a whole bunch. They were offering me a stone to step across the pond.
Never would have been able to predict the kinds of problems they were, that they were having, that he was having, that she was having, that they caused me, in a hundred years. But, before all of that would be revealed to me, I'd have to get over there.
Spiritually, I was there the minute I had made up my mind to go there. The second part of the program required me to buy a round trip ticket. It seemed to be an impossible number to pull off.
I had no money in the bank, no rich relatives, no dishonest cash flow, no lucrative hustle, just a ball point, some notebook paper and a $170 Veterans pension. How was I going to buy a round trip ticket to Ghana, West Africa?
The solution came to me in my third dream. Simple. Sell two well written paper back books to Holloway House Publishing Company, one of the weirdest publishing houses in the world, collect the lousy advance and move out sharply.
And that's exactly what I did. Just one small catch to the whole business; I was leaving my "home," the garage, to vault into the unknown. Where would I wind up? On the streets of Accra?
The hell with it. In May, 1992, with the smoke from the aftermath of the Rodney King pachanga still curling up over the Basin, I looked out onto the ugly, sulfite flecked clouds and started thinking about my first African based move.
I drifted off to sleep, trying to blot out the guttural curses of the man stumbling through the house. The African American couple who had invited me to come share their place in Osu were crazies.
Damn, I wasn't really angry with them for being who or what they were, I was angry at myself for not having the common sense to check around before I made the trip. There were at least a dozen people who could've run the scene down for me.
"Well, how long is Mr. Bone Daddy gonna live with us? I mean, like, how long are we gonna have to put up with the presence of this asshole fuckin’ son of a-bitch?
"Huh?! Answer me, bitch.”
"Now, John, please. He just got here last week...."
"Are your sure?! Seems to me this motherfucker been livin' in that room for months!"
It took less than a week to realize that I had landed on the wrong side of the coin. The brother was a hostile drunk and his wife was glorified (in her mind) by her martyrdom. It was a win-win situation for them and a no win no win situation for me.
Objectively, strangely, maybe, I find myself comparing them to gangbangers I've ridden with on the Blue Line, especially that section of the run from Florence to Compton. They were screamin' for help but they wouldn't accept help. Maybe it sounds like a contradiction, but that's the only possible description one can make of behavior that begs for correction, but awaits it in order to refuse it.
Ghana, Africa, came easily. The crazed couple came hard. From May 1992 to September 1992, I lived in their house. I drank with them. I smoked with him. I fell in love on my own.
No doubt in my mind that I was going to have to leave that crazy place. If the scene in Oakland had been infected by PMS, this scene in Ghana was infected, fueled and driven by PMS of another sort, plus Malaria.
I got the Malaria about one month after I arrived. Malaria, in retrospect, was like a severe form of LSD intoxication, coupled to the possibility of dying. (In recent times, I've asked myself why the people who are involved with extreme mountain climbing, “recreational budgeting" and extreme "martial arts" shouldn't get into "extreme Malaria.”
“Extreme Malaria" would offer them all of the wonderful stuff they seem to be seeking. Hallucinations are cheap, weight loss for the fat conscious is guaranteed, "drive by rush" is definitely on the menu, plus a real good sweat plus a real good chill plus visits, under the hallucinogenic influences of a female mosquito of demons.)
On the serious level, Malaria is a hell. And there I was, in hell, with hell in my bloodstream. Didn't matter, about me being sick for a couple weeks, it was simply a part of the mix. He continued to get drunk, come home, rant and rave, and start the next day off like a choirboy.
(Nothing is ever all bad. I met Grace while I was living in the Nasty House....)
Accra is a very difficult city to live in. It's easy to get from place to place, but difficult to find a place to live. It was a crazy time for "Bone Daddy.”
I would come across a hip little place in a groovy area for a million point two cedis (a thousand two hundred dollars), get halfway into the place and wind up being out bid by the guy who was offering a million point four cedis.
It went on like that for eight months. It was really a bad scene. The Nasty House couple were quite aware that I was seeking accommodations elsewhere, and why, which didn't endear me to their malevolent little twisted hearts.
“Now, don't you get out there and start tellin' people what's going on in here." This, from the Lady of the house. As though no one knew. Seems that I was the only one who didn't know, 'til too late.
Eight beastly long months. Finally, in desperation, I threw all of my belongings in a couple cardboard boxes and fled to the Fair Gardens Hotel ("mosquito heaven"), right across the road from the Trade Fair Center.
Now, I could begin to do a little bit more of what a "Bone Daddy” is supposed to do, without having obscene people peek over his shoulder.
Grace was coming to me but she hadn't fully mounted my soul yet.
Four months in a Fair Gardens Hotel cell. A window on the west that slatted out onto a sheep grazing soccer field, a door on the eastside that opened into a dead-end corridor, a "bed" with a foam rubber mattress, a chair and a small round table, a room that held generations of female mosquitoes captive, who took out that anger on me, nightly,
Four hot months of sizzling Malaria episodes, many hours of introspection. What else is there to do in a room that was smaller than many American closets?
But it wasn't all malaria and serious thinking. There were many orgasmic moments, many. Plus the novel that seemed to be writing itself whenever I picked up the pen.
Four long months in a small room. Grace was beginning to edge her rivals over the side of the nest. I could see it happening but I didn't have a name for it. In addition, I didn't know if I liked the idea or not. What is a “Bone Daddy” with no bones?
Susan Amegashie-Ashi, bless her Montessori soul, saved my life from becoming a Fair Gardens statistic by introducing me to Tom Appenteng.
Tom’s rich Daddy had given him a three bedroom house in Kanda and he was open to the idea of a roommate. From a cell to a palace. Technically, Bone Daddy was still basically homeless, but he wasn't sleeping in the street. Thank Tom for that.
Big house, actually three big houses in a large, cobble stoned compound courtyard with a giant, gorgeous magnolia tree in the center. It was Paradise.
Tom was what they call a "half caste" in Ghana. (We always argued about which was the "half and which was the "caste.”)
His father was King of Salt in Ghana, the equivalent to a Kennedy in revenue terms. And Tom was his son by an Irish maid. All of the father’s other wives were African women (and, I assume, the girlfriends, secondary girlfriends, mistresses, etc.), which placed Tom in a unique position.
He was the "half caste," non Ashanti speaking uncle of a quartet of truly gorgeous nieces, and the half brother of a formidable female who lived in a huge house across the compound.
Tom was, of course, an eccentric. He loved a beer in the evening, fufu for lunch, always (he attributed his hunger to the Akan in himself), and dabbled in a cross coded collection of odd interests; numerology and astrology were only two.
We clicked. He was cool, I was a diplomatic scribbler and at the end of the day, we both liked to have a couple of ABC's at the little outdoor bar across the road and watch the oats pepper the air as they started their evening's hunt.
In between times, I sat on my little roomside veranda porch, at night, nourished by a dim bulb, sipping local gin and scribbling to my heart's content.
In the afternoons, I might be privileged to scribble and watch the nieces do what they had to do.
The gorgeous nieces made me think of Tom Peelings' work. Even during the course of the most prosaic work, there always seemed to be art and grace attached to the accomplishment of the task.
I fell in love with all of them, of course, and held my attraction in so strongly that it almost forced them to break the ice. But they didn't, and I didn't, and thusly, we retained and fed on a tension that gave the sexual vibe a new dimension.
I studied them. I studied their language, their gestures, their clothes, the way they ate omo tuo, the way they ate fufu, the way they swept the leaves away from under the tree, the way they watched me, the way them watch each other, the way they stood.
Four beautiful girls (I think the oldest was 17-18) who sparkled like diamonds. I took note of the fact that Grace came to visit me, even times when she hadn't been invited. But, of course, she was welcome, she had to be.
May, ‘93, came like a shot between the eyes. My plane ticket was going to expire, I was going to go into a delinquent visa status. I had to leave, I would have to leave my place to go back to No place.
Grace came to spend the night with me before I left. No one has even tried to describe what lovemaking, during the rainy season, in Accra, Ghana, can possibly be like.
I have several concrete theories; number one, all of the Ghanaian writers I've read are/have been so sexually colonialized they blot out what they see and feel, in order to achieve Eurocentric/Puritanical approval.
Number two; writers in Ghana, like writers in America ('til recently) tend to be dry ass academics.
Number three; I just don't feel that they've even had a 'hood to 'hood Bone Daddy view of the sexual picture.
It doesn't always rain during the rainy season, but there seems to be a pregnant moisture in the air, even when it's not raining. The lovemaking is silent, there may be people in the next room, the next compound, all quite close.
Stuff can go on and on, especially if the man is an African American who has come home to enjoy himself.
(Several African American oralists have been highly placed on a number of hit lists.)
Moist night, everything outside the darkened bedroom window huddled under the flossy leaves and ivory waxy flowers of the Magnolia tree. Sexy frogs croak (the males, they say), begging the females to come.
We are two quiet, aroused naked human being, enchanted by our senses. A distant drum signals the beginning of a Pleistocene rhythm. Our kiss lasts for hours. We swim in love, we burst silent bombs inside each others heads and bodies. No doubt in my mind that I had finally found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, exploring.
But first I would have to leave her, to return to America. Minister/Colonel Owusu had declined to grant me resident status. The big bastard. If only I had had enough cedis to "dash" him.
Back in the United States of America, California, Los Angeles. Homeless again. A real bummer. My only serious consideration was finding a way to get back to Ghana. Meanwhile, I'll homeless. Well, almost anyway.
“You can stay with me, Bone Daddy, you know that.“
Foolishly, I moved in. Four weeks later, wisely, I moved out. If John Outterbridge had decided to say “no,” I would've taken a blanket and a bottle of water to Griffith Park. I had already staked out a place.
The lessons that I learned while spending four tortuous weeks in my girlfriend's house will stay with me for life. Number one: some men and some women should never attempt to live together.
They are capable of fighting, loving, sky diving, running, pissing or whatever together. But they shouldn't try to live together. I didn't know that until I tried to live with Lady P.
Number two: don't assume that you are going to be at ease with this person you’ve always been at ease with, under her roof. If you've been at ease before, you'll discover that she has changed.
"Sorry, Bone Daddy, that's not the way I like to have things done up in here.”
And there are other situations that will occur. Each man must find his own way.
The 'Bridge's pad. John Outterbridge, Artist, former Director extraordinaire of the Watts Towers Art Center (1975 1992), who is generally credited with causing an artistic hullabaloo in South Central "EL A" during his watch. A friend.
"Well, Bone Daddy, I'm preparing works for a retrospective... hope I won't disturb you too much.”
I should be so lucky to be disturbed every day of my life, the way he disturbed me. He "disturbed" me for five incredible months.
I would go to sleep at 11:00 PM. and wake up at 5:00 AM., anxious to see what John had created. Creative people are Gods. I haven't had any doubts about that for years.
Those were five of the most "disturbingly" satisfied months of my life. Art is the 'Bridge’s life, and mine.
So, I’ve sld anther book to tat weird Holloway House, time to go back home.
September, 1993. Kotoka Airport, home. Grace was there to meet me. How did she know the time and day of my arrival? I hadn't told her. I was beginning to suspect that the baby knew a lot more about Bone Daddy than I cared for her to know. Now then, after reasoning all that out, where am I going to live?
Well, this sister who practically commutes to Ghana, had given me the name and address of a lady named Marilyn Amponsah, a member of the Children's Commission or something like that. I was set for the moment, but I still didn't have my own spot.
Marilyn Amponsah lived on the 3rd floor of an apartment building in Roman Ridge. Osu, Kanda, Labadi, Roman Ridge, I was beginning to know Accra.
In Ghanaian terms, Marilyn had a hip place. As a government employee of some standing, she had a rent free place with running water in a decent area (there were embassies all over the place; the Brazilian Embassy was around the corner and the Algerians were down the road) and a vehicle to drive. A cosmetic check of the scene would have given her situation a big thumbs up. But that ain’t the way it was.
First off, the seemingly hip house was dysfunctional. Her two children, appropriately named "Mommy” and "Poppa” in Ashanti, were as delinquent as the circumstances would allow. Her huge boyfriend was a mass of contradictions and Marilyn was a rotten sneak and a petty cheat.
I was not living on sacred ground. The apartment within the apartment that I rented from Ms. Amponsah had some definite advantages. My room had a toilet, which gave me the opportunity to evade and avoid a lot of the family madness.
It took me approximately two days to realize I was living in a den of pirates.
The boyfriend wanted to borrow money from me. I said “no.” Marilyn borrowed money from me to buy bread. The “maid," Ama, sneaked into my room to make love to her boyfriend.
The children, uncharacteristically ill behaved for Ghanaian s, tried to borrow money from me. The girl, a conniving twelve year old, tried to seduce me. And there was all of the other yang-yang stuff that is customarily found in dysfunctional households -- Marilyn avoiding people she owed money to, the children having problems with other children and adults in the building, money missing, stuff.
If they had been speaking English, instead of Twi, they would've fit the frame of any Negrocentric family on the Near Westside of Chicago.
And then the brother comes from Sierra Leone, a real slickster who wore two toned shoes, his pants up around his chest, pimped a woman who looked like a small hippo and asked to use my deodorant once too often.
“No, buy yourself some.”
Of courser his feelings were hurt, but I didn't give a damn. The whole family had gotten on my nerves. Meanwhile, I'm teaching a Capoeira class at Mr. T's Aerobics Studio, teaching my own group of students in Osu, teaching a creative writing class at the Accra Girls Secondary School, teaching a creative writing class at the Ghana International School, writing articles for the Horizon newspaper and the Public Agenda newspaper, writing reams of letters to the people I care about everywhere, writing a novel, trying to figure out how to escape the dysfunctional household (I was experienced now, I knew there was a way), showing my lady, Grace, how much I loved her, drinking a lot of beer and learning a lot at Susan Amegashie's afternoon “seminars.”
Yeah, I was busy, maybe too busy, but not too busy to begin to code my way off of the third floor. I was beginning to show signs of bite wounds.
What's the matter with you, Bone Daddy? Are you going to allow a collection of low grade scam artists to eat you alive?
No, of course not.
Well, then, what's the plan? You can either change your personality around and stay on the frontline of this mess, fight it, or run from it.
I opted to run. I couldn't see a bit o’ win happenin' in her house, on her turf.
How did I meet the brother? 0 yeahhh, my Osu Capoeira group gave a demo on Labadi Beach and he came over to speak to me after it was over.
I didn't pay him any more attention than I wouldv'e paid any other shave headed, one eye hooded, bright smiling, first African-American-Attorney-to-be-qualified-to-practice-law-in-Ghana.
JaJa Bakari was his name and he became my savior.
"Well, I've got this four bedroom house in Nungua. There’s a sister from Philly living there now but she'll be gone next week. I’ll be leaving next week, also. I have some business I have to take care of in Atlanta.
“But, hey, don't worry about anything, my man, Kalo, will be there. He'll take care of you.”
That's a mild idea of the way JaJa moves. It was impossible to determine what he was doing, on a day-to-day basis, but one thing is certain, he was doing it.
It gave me great satisfaction to see the lady, her rapacious boyfriend, her greedy children and her predatory brother washing their hands with distress.
"Please, you mustn't go!"
"O, we need you.”
"That's one of the reasons why I'm going.”
If Roman Ridge was a slice of domestic hell, Nungua was a piece of rental heaven. Teshie-Nungua, never will forget it as long as I live.
Three bedroom house in a walled compound, fresh ocean breezes gently sweeping through every day, even on the muggiest days. A San Francisco high ceilinged bedroom to work in, no domestic clap trap to be involved with.
"Bone, come! ‘Dynasty’ is on the tellie!”
"Why the hell would I want to watch ‘Dynasty?’”
"It's from America!"
And brother Kalo to serve. I have to believe that Kalo was from a different atmosphere. Kalo was JaJa's man about the house, which means that he did everything that had to be done.
And he didn't do it reluctantly. Kalo added a new dimension to the word "servant.” He was a servant, but he wasn't servile. He took pride in what he did, no matter whether it was washing the dishes or cutting the weeds that sprouted all around the place.
He set a standard that encouraged me to do better. To try to do better. To do my best.
And there was Grace at my side. I had gradually fallen in love with Grace. Stupid, simple me, after all these months of having this beautiful human being in my life, before I reached the conclusion that I would be a fool not to love her. What could possibly prevent me from loving her, other that my own stupidity?
Nungua was coming to an end, it had to. I was going to be my own man in my own house in Ghana. I had to be. I had spent eight months living in a lovely, ocean breezed environment, but it all belonged to someone else.
It reached a point where I was feeling feverish about the idea. Or was that the latest episode of malaria?
Grace and I decided to pull it together in January, 1995, at the seaside beach resort call Kokrobite.
We talked all day about what our life would be like, together. There were so many things to overcome, to reckon with: cultures, age (I was 58, she was 28), attitudes, two bureaucracies. My visa had expired months ago and I knew I would have to deal with the mean spirited bastards at immigration, eventually. But I would deal with them when the time came.
Meanwhile, there was a house to be built, a life to be lived with Grace.
I was taken, but not too badly, doing my first home building deal, anywhere. To have done it in Ghana and escaped alive is a testimonial to the generosity of the Orisha and to God. In a place where the average person is literally living from day-to-day, sometimes from hour-to-hour, the human talent for rapacity can be developed in a way that only a Hollywood agent could possibly understand it.
I had contracted a builder to do me a two bedroom house in Labadi at Palm Wine Junction. It was all set, all of the arrangements made, money exchanged, the whole banana.
In Ghana, with the cheap labor and the proper amount of cement, a small house can be erected in a week or less. We set things into motion in October. By the time January, 1995 showed its scarred head, we were supposed to be moving into our place at Palm Wine junction.
Nothing happening. The bare frame of the house was in place, with the beginning of a wall on one side and no roof in place.
I had made an emotional decision: “Come January, '95, I'm going to be in my own place or else.” Or else what? I hadn't quite figured that out, but I knew I was going to have to be in my own space. I had lived under JaJa's roof long enough. January 1st, 1995 was my own personal deadline.
Now what do I, we do? The house is half done ("we need three move days, at least") and we have no place to call home.
What the hell, we'll go spend a couple days in the Grace Jones Hotel. Our house is only a half mile away; we can to check on it every day. That's the only way to have things done efficiently, in Ghana. You must sit on the site.
The "couple days" lasted four long months, from February 1st to May 1st. A "couple days” in the Grace Jones Hotel was lifetime experience.
At the end of a long, incredibly rutted road in deepest Labadi, packed with people doing every conceivable human thing anybody could think of, swarming with diseases of all kinds, was the Grace Jones Hotel.
Mr. Nai gave us the best room in his establishment. It had a shower. We didn't unpack (for the first week), there was no need to do that, we were going to be moving into our own spot in a few days.
Mr. Nai’s Grace Jones Hotel was where the local lovemaking was done by the half hour for a reasonable price. We didn't know that when we moved in and it really didn't matter because everybody was cool.
Mr. Nai had a bar located at the entrance to his collection of rooms (Grace called them "money pots") and no one got loud and rowdy, and it was in an authentic neighborhood, which was good for my anthropological research.
But, damn it! I was still living under another man’s roof. Four boring months, waiting for our little house to be built. It meant being forced to have a patience I didn't think I had.
It did something for me and Grace that probably wouldn't have happened under other circumstances. We became very close friends. Four months in a small space is an interesting way to grow to love someone. Or hate them.
With nothing to do for many hours of the blistering day, we sprawled out on the mattress that I had to lay on the floor to preserve my sensitive back and did soul chats. Or said nothing.
I was enchanted, I am enchanted by Grace's femininity, of thinking, of acting, of being. I felt I was being exposed to a completely exotic trick in our little space inside the Grace Jones Hotel. But I was still living under another man's roof and paying him by the day for the honor.
We had to get out of there. And we did, one bright day in May. What sense did it make to pay rent daily and at the same time pay to have a house built?
My tortured reason forced me to see an advantage in living in a partially constructed house (that belonged to me), rather than pay rent for a room that would never be mine.
Mr. Nai was severely pissed to see his "money pot" disappear. But it didn't matter, we were free. I think Grace thought that I had blown my cool, for a minute. And, "Oh," she said, "I see what you've done, you've taken us out of the room and put us in our house.”
Damn! I was so proud! For the first time in my life I was living in my own bonafide house, my house, paid for and almost completed.
The finishing touches were literally done over our heads. It seemed to make the workmen work more seriously when they saw that we were going to be THERE.
By the first week in May, 1995, we had settled into our Little House in the compound. I have to force my mind to return to the scene to even begin to imagine what our neighbors must have gossiped about.
Here is this middle aged obruni-African American writer-man moving into an authentic African neighborhood (there are neighborhoods that are the opposite, yes, in Ghana, West Africa) with a young African (Ashanti) woman.
What the hell do you make of it? It was a complex matter. First off, it didn't take long for our neighbors to come to the conclusion that we were not rich folks doing a Harlem/slum scam. We had to get our pineapples on credit too, and eat at Mojays when the cedis grew thin. And I did go and sit in the bar to sip my gins and stouts, just like any other African chauvinist.
Aside for all the regulation stuff, there were some distinctions. Grace didn't work and I had no visible means income "he's a writah" didn't mean much to people who were rationing their money for the gift of each day.
Obviously, since I wasn't working and my wife wasn't working, we were "rich," in some weird, special way. No one could figure it out. I couldn't either.
Those were divine moments in that Little House on Palm Wine Junction, carefully nourished by rainy season midnight thunder sessions and my blown up ego as a home owner.
I wrote in the front room at my little school boy desk, enjoying the children's games that ebbed and flowed from the moment they got home from school until they were forced to go to bed while my woman prepared jollof rice and delicious gumbo type stews in the kitchen.
We sprawled on the platform bed that I had had a carpenter down the road make and talked about the improvements we wanted to make on the house.
(We had a shower and an indoor toilet installed; a first for the compound.)
We played wari in the bedroom with Grace challenging me to beat her at her own game. I think she allowed me to do it a few times, just to keep the spirit of competition alive.
And we held each other in the bedroom, sometimes like children who felt lost in the world, sometimes to give each other courage to endure the fevers of malaria and other exotic ailments that could only be found at Palm Wine junction, in Labadi, Accra, Ghana, West Africa.
I couldn't see myself living at the compound level, or in Labadi forever, but I knew it was going to take years to build a front porch and to add another level to our little house.
We were designing something (in our heads/conversations, that Home Beautiful would/could never imagine) that was going to be African African American unique. And then one night the rain came.
May October is the rainy season in Ghana, but that doesn't mean that it rains every day at 3:15.
Some days it doesn't rain at all, r but when it does, it can rain blizzards of water, huge golicious droplets that can blot out the sight of things a couple yards away.
In July, 1995, on the 4th, it started raining very hard. It rained all day, which gave a moist, pregnant, romantic feeling to the time. And it continued to rain hard, way into the night.
I was going through a malaria episode. Feverish rides on cold swings, marathon sweats, no desire to get well, these little gnomes in their steel plated boots, kicking my temples from within. I dropped my hand over the side of the bed to feel the coolness of the floor, anything to help me get through the night.
So cool, so wet? I leaned over the side of the bed to look at the shallow lake on the floor.
Hallucination. I sprawled back for a moment, smiling. No, I was not going to be fooled by a fever.
I dropped my hand back over the side into water that soaked my elbow. We were being flooded. It felt so cool and pleasant. We're being flooded!
Rain suddenly iced my brain, the fever was gone and we were racing around in our little space, trying to figure out what to do. Cinch the foam rubber mattress with a suddenly found cord, it will float on our mattress platform. Put a few things on top of the refrigerator. Hop on top of my writing table and drown.
"Bone Daddy, are you afraid of dying?"
It took me a couple wavy moments to answer that.
"It's too late to be afraid.” And strangely, I wasn't afraid. My fever was gone, calmed down by the tepid water we were standing in, up to our necks.
From our “ringside seats," standing on the table, we stared through the window slats at the rain, the water flushing into the compound from the narrow passageway that was always so cooly shadowed on hot days.
The rolling of the thunder sounded like worlds fracturing and, periodically, the raindrops would become thicker. Our neighbors wore out on their porches, beseeching the gods and God to stop punishing us this way.
The water was at the waist level in the compound; the pregnant woman dashed out into the middle of our neighborhood, screaming maddened by the thunder and the pounding rain. Her husband and another man rescued her, pulled her back.
She would have drowned if she had fallen. The Obagyes were praying in front of a lantern that cast devilish shadows on their faces. Here and there were signs of panic, but it was contained by cooler heads.
Rain, prayers, people screaming, thunder, prayers, as we stood on the table, exchanging comments from time to time.
"Looks like the water is going down, see? You can see the level over there on the wall."
"The rain is becoming more small, yes.”
My all time love took hold in that rain. I stared at Grace's small, sculptured profile and loved her. I loved her for the moments we had shared, the days we had trudged through the blistering rutted roads together, the weeks we had spent in the Grace Jones Hotel, sprawled doggo, waiting for the evening to bring us some relief from the sun, the months we had held each other, not really certain of what the future would give us.
The water surged up under our chins. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel claustrophobic in a small space. I can't say why exactly, maybe the water we stood in gave me a different sense of dimensions.
Where do we go if the water continued to rise? We were trapped, and we would drown if the water rose higher. It didn't.
Suddenly the rain was reduced to relative sprinkles and the people on the next porch started singing Christian hymns. We were not going to drown tonight, a night that lasted for days.
We were clearing away rubbish, washing the mud from our walls and preparing to face life again when dawn came. Optimists, we knew that life was going to be better after the storm. It would have to be better.
KLM (In ‘Plane View)...
KLM, World Business Class, after two weeks of running back and forth to the airport, to take a scheduled 'plane back to the future.
flack and forth to the immigration, the month before that, blindsided by resentful, corrupt, underpaid bureaucrats.
"We can't allow you to pay your overdue visa fee until you pay your overdue visa fee."
In other words, if you don't "dash" me, you'll never get on that 'plane back to the place I’m dying to get to.
Here, please, allow me to "dash" you so that I can dash out of here. I hated Ghana for a couple of days, during the course of this meanspirited exchange with these meanspirited people.
“Why have you remained so long in Ghana here?"
"Because I love the people, I....”
“That is not a good answer....”
I hated the brutality that their dogheaded processes took me through, the attitudes that permanently stamped them, "Africa, Ghana, Third World.” But I kept the whole business in perspective; I was only dealing with a few anal types, they didn't represent the whole society.
KLM, World Business Class, the blonde placing a tray in front of you every ten minutes, or a glass of wine, or cognac. I spaced out on the treatment.
I nodded, dreamed, cried a few times, thinking about my wife to be, back there on the ground in Accra. She couldn't come with me, she didn't have a visa/passport, we weren't married. What the hell, we'd have to do it long distance.
Once again, my most immediate concern was a place to live. Once again I was back in the House, with no Home. As some of us used to say, “my baby's Momma" (the women said, "my baby's Daddy") offered me a place to stay in their apartment on Wilshire and Normandie, Apartment 711.
Talk about being saved. I go from being homeless to living on the seventh floor of a "secure" apartment, complete with a swimming pool on the roof. It took me three months after my arrival to stop trembling.
Residual malaria had me trembling for awhile, plus a sense of unrealness about where I was. I would be tempted to call it culture shock, but I don't think I had been away from America long enough for that to happen.
This was something else, it was a sense of disbelief. How could I have come from there to this?
It was much easier to identify the source of the tear jags. I was missing Grace more than I have missed anyone in my whole life. I know I was going to have to fight for her, but I didn't know what the choice of weapons would be, or who the enemy/enemies would be, beyond the concentrated bureaucracies of Ghana and the U.S.
I had to stop crying to get a clear focus on my life, and on the life that I was determined to build for us. It took a few months of stabbing shadows in the dark before I found the proper bodies to shoot at.
Meanwhile, for the first time, I was having the rare experience of getting to know a grandson, a daughter and "my baby's Momma.”
“Love,” the "baby's Momma" and the grandson, Brian. They gave me a family feast for a year, from September '95 to September '96, I wallowed in the family's bosom. I had never really know "Love," I had just simply got her pregnant, the way boys do at 16, and that was that.
I had gotten together with my friend, the Iyalosa Tanina Songobumni, to have a some luruko, an adoption "cere for the baby we had," many years later, but I couldn't say that I actually knew my daughter, Gabrielle.
And I could never have imagined a grandson like Brian....
Over the years, "Love" had developed into one of the extraordinary women who had figured out all of the simple emotional stuff, and had a leg up on the complex items. We were acquaintances when we made the baby, and became friends thereafter.
I think of her as the best woman-friend I've ever had. That friendship matured during the year I lived in #711. We talked. She talked, I listened, I talked, she listened. I watched the way she spread her "love" around. It was, to coin a cliche, “awesome.”
There were days when she seemed to be feeling whole neighborhoods, sympathizing with dozens and dispensing advice across the country.
She was/is a composite Oprah/Montell/Ann Landers/Dear Abby/Yo' Gran'momma, when it comes to advising wisely. Her insights were clear, her advice lush and clear. She did a wholistic number with her positive self.
Adesina, “she who brings gold," Gay, gave me a female tinted view of myself. I could see the same characteristics in her that used to make people whisper behind their hands.
“What’s the matter with him?"
"He read too much, that's the basic problem."
It was something else with her, a strong sense of reserve, a private person. I connected with her when she gave me a hug and said, "I'm glad you're here.” And that was that. No long gushy speeches, no false themes played.
I liked that. I do like that about her, no need to do a jolly jolly number with her. If she likes you, she likes you, if she doesn't, that's the way that is, no apologies either way.
She typed a fat novel for me, that will be sold by the time she reads this, a serious indication that she cares about me. I love her dearly.
Brian, the grandson. I never really got to know. Erika's son, Americhe, or the children of my first delinquent sperm out. But during the course of one year, I got to know Brian pretty well.
How old was he then? Ten years old? And full of piss ‘n vinegar. In my mind's eye I attach a basketball to his hands because I can't ever recall seeing him for longer than ten minutes without a basketball in his hands.
I was called "Grandfather” for the first time and that made me feel honored. Just back from Africa, where titles like that carry great weight.
#711, lucky numbers for sure. I stumbled around, looking for gigs. I wrote, I made serious efforts to hook up with somebody to make some serious money. I wrote. I wrote to keep my balance, I wrote because I have to, the only addiction I feel safe allowing myself to surrender to.
I got nibbles and quibbles but no solid fix on anything. People promised me this and that but no one came through with anything.
I wrote encouraging letters to Grace assuring her that we would be together again soon. I wrote.
There were times, during that dark year, when I can't really understand how I wrote, but I did.
I know that my mental well being depended on it. If I stopped writing I would collapse; I wouldn't be able to tell Grace that we were going to have our place (again), despite the fact that I was living in a corner of "Love's" apartment. I wouldn't be able to fantasize correctly.
I wrote. And I'm still writing, with some of the same goals in mind.
I saw a huge black pit open up in front of me when “Love” told me I would have to move out. The lease was designed for a certain number, and I was one too much. Management had taken notice of my rituals on the rooftop and my jaunty air about the joint.
"Bone Daddy" was homeless again. Fortunately, I knew J.... Surely everyone should have at least one friend like J....
J, the Packrat.
"Yeah, you got a place here, if you can find a way to get in.”
I cast around for other possibilities. I was willing to do any number of things to prevent myself from moving into J's space, what little there is of it.
The thing that you have to understand about J is this; on the outside he appears to be "normal," but this is pure deception. One has to take a peek around the edge of the scenery to see the real person. His car is a bit more clogged with items in the back seat but that's only a hint.
I was forced by circumstances to go into J's space. Come with me....
The place would be as spacious as any street level loft, perhaps a grocery store without aisles, were it not so congested. The congestion starts at the entrance.
The door opens and we are confronted by a curious mix of stuff crowding the aisle. There is a do it yourself wall on the left, bulging from the weight of the stuff on the other side. There is a motorcycle parked on the right side of the narrow aisle, and stuff parked on the motorcycle, and stuff piled on top of that stuff. Some of it is obviously useful; the cans of motor oil, ladders, car repair kits, futons, motorcycle helmets, mattress springs and stuff like that.
But how useful are three four year old copies of the LA Weekly and miscellaneous other bits and pieces of this and that?
Before I moved in with him, years before, visiting him, I became so claustrophobic I had to go back outside.
But now it's a new day and I'm going to live in the incredible clutter.
We feel things clutching and grabbing at us as we carefully thread through the jumbled entrance.
It's almost impossible not to dislodge something, or trip over something as we walk the entrance obstacle course, which is about ten short yards.
Ten short yards of pure clutter before we reach a fork in the passageway. An opening to the left reveals a large room, maybe twenty yards wide, thirty yards long, filled with every possible piece of stuff imaginable.
A stuffed armadillo, a gumball machine, a full sized ten paneled window, photographic equipment (the brother is a professional photographer), stacks of boxes filled with all kinds of stuff, strips of film dangling here and there.
There is a picture window, the kind you'd find in a Mom 'n Pop store, but this one has blinds and a metallic colored curtain hanging in front. Light comes through but there is no sense of its source.
Standing there, looking at the metallic curtain, surrounded by heaping piles of old newspapers, newspaper racks, bags of ancient Chinese noodles, hat racks, a book case stuffed with what seemed to be files of some kind, file cabinets filled with dirty clothes, and God only knows what else, I felt like someone stranded on a desert island.
The smaller room to the right is the most jammed of all. A desk that is piled three feet high with paperwork, old photos, books, prints, newspapers, memos on napkins, junk.
In addition to a couple medium sized glass tanks where he keeps his pet lizards. In the middle of all this, he has two living creatures in these glass tanks.
He feeds then what they eat, gives them water and talks to them occasionally. It seems so bizarre.
The next room, also smaller, but with a higher ceiling might be called the nerve center of the establishment. There is an answering machine fax plainly visible under a pile of notes, candy bars, noodle packages, dirty socks, whatever.
The television is centered in front of the weathered futon sofa, with the hifi ground into the same niche. A small computer is mounted adjacent to the television.
Clothes that were laundromat-ed a year ago clutter the sofa, along with piles of junk mail, legal briefs, blankets, foot powder, etc.
J clears a space for me to sit on and we sit there, jammed together like Siamese twins, watching the best of PBS. He loves movies and other visual stuff, as you would imagine a photographer would, and tapes every possible program that he can. It's almost as though he were trying to save TELEVISION.
The racks on two walls are testimonials to his determination to record everything that passes through his hands. He has wonderful Japanese, French, Italian, Australian, African, Hungarian movies and documentaries but it is difficult for him to locate anything because there is no system with his arrangement, everything is everywhere.
Onward to the next room, which is only slightly smaller than the front room. This is the "kitchen," but also a storage space for ancient sports jackets, odd bottles of exotically flavored liquors (watermelon schnapps, peach flavored brandy, chocolate flavored rum, ginger snap flavored whiskey), two year old copies of the L.A. Times, stuff so eclectic that it would have to be seen to be imagined.
The "kitchen" also serves as a shower because there is no bathroom in the place. Bathing is done in a large plastic "boat.” It requires a little effort to learn the technique.
I dug a shallow bed from the center of the clutter in
the front room and cried myself to sleep every night for a month. I felt so bad about being so broke that I couldn't afford the rent for my own space.
I was so bad off I had to ask J for help. I felt so low.
Funny, complex kind of feeling.
Here I am, "Bone Daddy, the Player," being forced to live in a junk pile, the most complex part of it had to do with J. He's a real brother, a true friend, a bit self-righteous maybe, but a heart that's this big. The big problem has to do with the fact that whatever he says, that's supposed to be logical, is invalidated by his illness.
Yes, it is an illness and those of us who do not call him on it wind up being part of the sickness. I was part of the sickness for eight months.
I became a part of it because I moved onto the set. I became a participant in the madness when I allowed my selfish needs to overcome the honest urge to talk with my friend, to help him deal with his massive denial of the fact that the environment he has created for himself (for whatever reason) is "abnormal."
Each of us (his so-called friends) chose to suspend judgment of his ridiculous lifestyle (nowhere to sit, three people standing face to face, saving junk mail, plastic forks, spoons, vacuuming a few inches of space in front of the sofa with a mini vacuum cleaner, etc.) because of an affection for him.
This affection for a quirky, giving, generous, complex human being, allows us to get what we want from him. What do I, we want? No critique of whatever our game is. In exchange, we are forced to surrender judgment of who he is.
Why would an intelligent person stack mounds of stuff around himself? What series of events brought him to this point?
The contradictions inherent to this lifestyle are incredible. He spends lots of time discussing other people's faults, but doesn't see the irony of the dysfunctional living space. Everything in the place is lost.
I was under the impression, for a while, that he knew where everything was. I was amazed to discover that I remembered where some things were. It was so easy to put something down and have it dissolve into the crazy collage we were living in. How often did we search for his car keys, the television remote control, other odd items? No, he didn't know where everything was.
And I could see the manifestations of that lostness in his daily life. The need to be everywhere at the same time, the mania of working to earn enough credit to buy enough stuff to be in debt for, and then to start the whole business all over again.
I felt like a shyster lawyer, discussing the thin threads of a strange case, as we talked about the craziness of the world, standing a few feet from each other because there was nowhere to sit.
I felt almost ashamed of us, sitting cheek to cheek on the sofa, trays placed under our heads like napkins, because there was no table, no place to really relax. It was like having dinner in the center aisle of a crowded New York subway.
The good brother who would get up in the middle of the night to go to bat for you, but could not bear to hear the simplest advice he could hear -- “unload, brother! unload!”
Don't you see: by surrounding yourself with things, with stuff, your mind will be stuffed with stuff? It's almost axiomatic. This has nothing to do with good or bad. Or right or wrong. But rather a closing off, a constipating of many of the good vibes that need clear channels to flow through.
I prayed myself out of J's space. They were the most difficult prayers I have ever offered to my Ancestors, to the Orisa, to God. I prayed to be released from the burden of his hospitality and my prayers were answered.
I would never be able to string the beaded circumstances together that gave me a spacious, furnished room in WLCAC's "Spanish House," a guesthouse used by WLCAC for people who are on the scene, doing something for WLCAC.
Well, Cecil Fergerson was the catalyst and Teryl Watkins, the president of WLCAC, was the one who put the blessing on the cake.
"O, you can live in the Spanish House. Rent? 0, well, that's enough...."
So, now, here I am. From a foam mattress on the floor of J's junk pile to a furnished, five bedroom house (all mine when there are no guests around).
From September, 1996 - April, 1997, J's. Now I have space to think, plan, strategize, write. My lease expires in December. If it hasn't happened by then, I'm going to request a full year. During the course of that time I will accomplish all of the things that I want to accomplish. How do I know I can do that?
If I prayed my way out of J's space, I can do anything, even find a cure for my homeless condition.
THE GYPSY IN ME ('Round trip to the Metro)...
I don't know, maybe it stems from my nomadic childhood, this Gypsy thing, moving from one side of Chicago to the other side (the city only has three sides; the Southside, the Northside and the Westside. Lake Michigan is the eastside); before I was fifteen we, my mother and sister (Daddy was doing time in Statesville Penitentiary) had lived on all sides of the city, including a stay as far east as the Lake would allow.
I didn’t feel put out by this constant shuffling of pads (evictions were the usual motivations for our motions), I was turned on. I hated the ratholes we burrowed into, for a week or a month, but I loved the scenes we wandered through.
On the Southside I got to know a few Japanese kids at Oakenwald Grammar School, over there on Lake Park Avenue (Oakenwald was one of the 18 grammar schools I went to). Where did they come from? I didn't find out 'til many years later, they were refugees from the West Coast, hassled to find some degree of safety from Japanese haters.
And the pimps and 'hoes (many people say whores). I knew where they came from. They turned tricks and lived in the building we lived in, for awhile, never too long, the Almo Hotel -- 3800 S. Lake Park Avenue.
In tune with my nomadic side, the neighborhood, the buildings we lived in, the things that happened were never still, never stationery. Yes, the neighborhoods moved. Sometimes they would be Irish or Italian and change overnight to Black. Or Mexican, or Czechoslovakian.
The building moved. A four story brick on Monday, a parking lot or a department store on Friday. I was in tune. It was like a Nature thing.
Turning a corner was a voyage into the occult. Going to sleep and waking up in the same bedroom was an adventure.
I crisscrossed the Southside like a White man who was in search of something to “discover.” There were moments in time when I was walking through a dream, experiencing the effects of something that I couldn't find a name for.
On the Southside (which included the Lakefront, despite the fact; that it was east), there were collections, aggregations, congregations, glutamates, crowds of emotions, school units, ideas profoundly scholarly and hip men and women. Plus midnight carnivals with so much-much much music and life strengthening vibes that it was hard to sleep.
The daytime promised and delivered daytime vibes and the nighttime promised and delivered nighttime vibes, and none of them were sleep invoking. I dream of the Southside as though it were a real place.
And the same goes for the Westside (where I was born). The Maxwell Street Hospital was where it happened.
Jewtown, they called it back then, and that wasn’t considered something derogatory or pejorative. It was where Jews lived, worked and hustled. I think the Jews help make the Westside my favorite side of town. It may have had something to do with their bread, or maybe it was the non protestant vibe.
It took me a long time to find out where the Jews came from and what a Jew is. If I read the newspapers closely, it seems that they're having the same problems themselves – “What is a Jew?"
I didn't have any doubts about the Gypsies. There was a Gypsy colony in Jewtown, down around Canal Street. I knew who they were, intuitively. The Jews had the bread I liked, but the Gypsies had the soul I loved.
Day after day, I found an excuse to wander through their tiny neighborhood. Maybe three/four hundred people, and I still don't know if they were Spanish, Hungarian, Indian, Russian or what. But that was the drawing card for me, the fact that they never allowed national boundaries to fence them in.
I stared into their mouths when they spoke, laughed at the music of songs I couldn't understand, but seemed funny because the singers made funny faces. And frowned when the sad music was played. I knew the blues when I heard it.
The Gypsies hemmed me in with their stuff. They seemed to be ethereal. They were there and yet they were not there.
Maybe the Maxwell Street Library offered a rationale for my hemming. I'll never know. I do know that it was a Bronzed Age chill racing through the streets, nipping cotton bound buttocks, that forced me into the two story building.
A Library. I was twelve maybe, going on thirty, and had never heard of anything called a library not on the personal level, at any rate.
A few minutes was all I needed to warm my mittenless hands in the vestibule (a place before you get into the a place, my definition of their definition), but that was enough to change my life forever.
Someone was playing the piano upstairs -- "Dream Girl, Dream Girl, Awaken to me, 0 beautiful Dream Girl, awaken to me....”
I followed the melody but never found it, or the pianist, and found myself in the Maxwell Street Library.
I have to cool myself out even today, when I recall the excitement of walking into a room that was filled with books. In the warmth of the building I thought I was hallucinating, that maybe I had died in the Siberian cold of the Chicago winter and was reborn in a book bound Heaven.
where was the Librarian? Maybe he/she was the piano/Circe who lured me into the Room of Books.
I plunged and lunged through the stacks, leaving unread
volumes behind me. And wound up with something called, "Romany Rye" and "Lawrence of Arabia.”
Only God and the Orisa can say, what took me there, why I picked those books to read1 why I heard that melody in my head. “Romany Rye" was a sociological study of European Gypsies.
I can't remember ~hat conclusions the book reached, or what the premise of the book was supposed to be. For me, it was a flight of birds flying higher than any mountain on earth, a glimpse at colors that shimmered in the sunlight.
"Lawrence of Arabia" simply reinforced the romanticism I stumbled into the library with.
I wasn't sophisticated enough to ask the Librarian's help to track down books about the Rom. I just simply stumbled blindly, from one occasional reference to a volume to another.
Everything that I came across served to enhance my admiration for them, for a people who could dismiss borders by roaming the Earth, the way Human Beings should roam the Earth.
During our own Gypsy period, in two grammar schools out of the eighteen we whipped through, I had two teachers, one African American and one White who asked me, "What would you like to be when you grow up?"
And when I answered, "A Gypsy," the Earth stopped spinning for a minute. The Black teacher asked my mother to come up for a chat. The chat went on for awhile and I recall the teacher saying something about "identity” several times.
My mother simply nodded, a neutral expression on her pretty little beige face. She knew her son.
The White teacher who asked me the magic question turned slightly pink and stuttered, “But ... but they don't have any... any... anything."
“They have Gypsy ways. That's what I like."
The lady looked at me out of the corners of her eyes for the rest of the time (two months) I spent in her classroom. Guess she wanted to see if the Gypsy in me was going to bust out.
Years later, in Spain, in the city of Alicante, on the southeastern coast, I became friends with a number of Gypsy people and for the first time in my life I realized I could never be a Gypsy. But I still feel like one.
Wandering.... Wandering.... Wandering.... Wander-ing.... Hmmm....
BLACK AND BROWN ON THE BLUE LINE AND OTHER STORIES
BY ODIE HAWKINS
It would have been impossible to predict a Blue Line coming to live in the Los Angeles, Watts, 107th and Avalon Avenue, California that I (we, then) came to live in, back there in 1966.
In Los Angeles County, many of us, pressed by circumstances, have suffered distances that would make a camel thirsty or cause a new car to need an oil change.
There were people talking about putting trains on city tracks, no doubt. But I never heard their talks, I was too busy trying to force my raggedy ol’ car to run a few more miles. Or trying to figure out how I could walk from Belgium to Holland without peeing on myself.
(Once upon a time, stranded beside a road to Eternity, down there in Orange County, someone told me that the property I was standing in front of was as large as Luxembourg. And I had walked across most of Austria to get there).
Gotta admit it, I didn't have the vision to assume that there would ever be a railed transportation system, like our hard heeled CTA in Chicago. Certainly, nothing that would ever come close to that monstrosity that connects various tentacles of New York with itself.
The Blue Line (and it’s crossing arms, the Green and Red Lines) is unique. It doesn't go very far; surely there's more railway at Disneyland, but it does take you to different places, if your mind is open.
From the Metro station, 7th Street, Downtown Los Angeles, to 1st Street, Downtown Long Beach. From the end of one world to the end of another world.
Rich people do not ride the Blue Line, meaning that the Blue Line is there for people of color who are not wealthy. A hard core of White, working types ride the train in the morning, going to their jobs in downtown Los Angeles and again in the evenings.
There is a heavy police presence (the train has it's own special police force), heavy. Lots of money invested in the Blue Line and none of the investors want to lose anything because of people being afraid to ride the train, or gang warfare.
Strangely, the honor system is in effect. Signs in English, Spanish and Korean explain that each passenger should have proof of payment, if not, the penalty is a stiff fine.
No eating, drinking, smoking or outrageous behavior is permitted, and the rules are seriously enforced.
Sometimes, for days on end, riding north and south, south and north, no one will check to see who has a ticket, a transfer or a bus pass (for train travel too), but the seed of obedience to the rules has been so deeply sowed that most sensible people know that it isn't worth the gamble to try to cheat the system.
African-Americans and Spanish speaking Brown skinned people ride the Blue Line. BLACK AND BROWN ON THE BLUE LINE comes from our experiences with each other.
Babies/Infantile Thoughts (From 7th to Pico)...
Babies, so many babies. Black and Brown babies, babies with attitudes, stoic babies, squawking babies, smiling babies, drooling babies, silly babies, laughing babies, funny babies, sad babies, frightened babies, fearless babies, sick babies, healthy babies, sleeping babies, clean babies, dirty babies, spoiled babies, unspoiled babies, little babies, big babies, all beautiful.
The babies are usually carried, but often pushed into the train in a stroller by women. But, from time to time, a man enters the vehicle with a baby in his arms.
It would be emotionally dishonest to suggest that I was never attracted to babies, I think all curious people are attracted to these unusual creatures.
The Blue Line offered me my first moving study of babies; their relationship to the person (persons) they are with, their relationship to themselves and the world at large.
Sadly, I must confess that I had to be cautious about how I looked at these innocent people. In today’s evil world there are people who would do harm to babies, and I never want to be mistaken for one of them.
For that reason alone I was never able to make friends with any of the Blue Line babies. I feared the consequences of being too warm, too loving, too charmed by the babies.
Yes, that's what the world has come to. The men and women, however, who held the babies in their arms seemed to have an ambiguous attitude about friendly attention. They seem to like someone’s admiring glance or a friendly, "0, how cute she/he is,” but we were all too conscious of the mean spirits swirling around to feel totally at ease.
I sat in place, stared whenever I dared and made mental notes.
The almond eyes of an eight month old clinched eyes with me. She has an absolutely round face and head and the look of a clairvoyant. She does not blink and seems to know something.
Eight months old. What can she possible know? I'm fascinated by the intelligence of her expression. She looks more intelligent than her mother and father even.
I'm tempted to speak to her, to ask her serious questions about the world she just come from, but there is no need to disturb our telepathic communication, just to say some words.
Her mother, a small, beautifully sculpted lady, who has the profile of a face from an ancient Mayan wall notices our exchange and smiles.
Her smile seems to say, “Ahhhh yes, she is a deep child.”
I have to break the lock she has on my attention by staring out of the window for a few beats. I've had a couple of cats pull me into their psychic modes for spans of the time, the same way that the baby is doing. It's the opaqueness of their eyes, that seems to whisper everything you've ever wanted to hear.
I turn back to discover that the mother, the father and the baby have disappeared. I make a quick, surreptitious search around the train. They're not there. We haven't come to the next station, they couldn't've gotten off the train.
I’m forced to settle back and relax. Don't panic, simply the subject matter buzzing through my head that’s responsible for me imagining that I saw this baby. Just of my imagination. Yeah, right ...
"The sleepers," I dubbed them, these extraordinary beings who have developed the ability to sleep through this world's chaos. How did they learn how to do it, at such an early age? Years later, rich people spend thousands of dollars, yeh, pesos, naira, cedis, pesetas, shekels, to find gurus to teach them how to do what they do.
I stared at the baby, carefully noting the classic I-am-happy smile. Ten paces beyond it's stroller, within easy grasp of its mother's protective shielding arms, within the danger zone of a piece of social dynamite, the baby slept.
Ten of us, at least, were mentally/psychologically preparing ourselves to take the social dynamite down, if not out, if he got a micron too close to the smiling sleeper.
Fortunately, for him, he popped off at the next stop, cussin’ 'n screaming!
The ten of us (it might1ve been twenty, counting the men) breathed a sigh of pure relief. Now, we won1t have to lynch a person with problems who was threatening Baby Space. Babydom was secure.
Suzuki (the Zen guy, not the motor guy), Ferlinghetti, and the hip Alan Ginsberg, knew a lot about Zen and being cool, but what did they know about sleeping babies on the Blue Line?
Day after day, I looked up from my reading of "Them is me" and "whatever that may be, is" and stared into the sleeping awake eyes of hundreds of "sleepers.”
Don't they know what's happening in Zaire, Bosnia, Ireland, New Zealand, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Texas, Australia, Antarctica, Spain, New Jersey? Don't they realize the consequences of their sleeping?
Maybe they do, maybe they don't. We (been here much longer now) could easily rationalize what we understand about cool behavior by understanding how not behavior equates to nasty behavior. Usually.
"The Sleepers" have obviously worked themselves past all of this stuff.
They go to sleep when they're sleepy, and it's quite obvious to anyone who studies geopolitics, science, industry, economics, race relations, or any of the other Earthbound disciplines. That sleep is the ultimate solution to most of our shit.
Sad babies, funny babies, addicted babies. My daughter, Gabrielle, a mother, is responsible for revealing the natural addiction that babies are prone to suffer.
"What do you think that 2:00 A.M. feeding thing is all about?"
It makes all the sense in the world to me, this junkie pattern of behavior. They are not always hungry when they demand to be fed every four five hours, maybe it's something in the baby food.
Once again, Gabrielle points out, "Ever notice the difference between breast fed babies and bottle fed babies?"
I had to confess that I hadn't paid that much attention.
"Well, check it out. Generally speaking, the breast fed doesn't seem to need as many feedings. They sleep sounder, give their parents more rest.
"The bottle fed baby has to have it NOW! And if they don't get it? . . . Well, you’ve seen the tantrums and all of that other negative behavior.”
What's in that formula anyway? Won't it be heart rending, twenty years from now, when some independent scientist reveals the secret ingredients that hooked our babies and created a junkie mentality for the rest of our lives?
The stoic ones most often held my attention longest. What's on their minds? What are they thinking about as they stare at this world they've just recently tumbled into headfirst?
Such a sophisticated expression for a year old face. How could they have learned how to be so cool in such a short time?
The babies with attitudes (see the Mussolini jut of the jaw and the pushed out bottom lip?), the squawking babies, the drooler, the silly ones, the delighted with life laughing ones (what is in that formula?), the frightened babies, the fearless babies who will stick their hands into a Rotweiler's mouth, or whip a rattlesnake around by the tail, the sick babies, the healthy babies, the clean and dirty ones, the spoiled, unspoiled ones and the big ones, all beautiful, all delightful mysteries. What are they going to become?
They were obviously upper middle class Anglos who were being forced to ride the train, probably for the first time. It was obvious in every move they made, every glazed, blue eyed look they gave the Black and Brown people on the train.
A tall, blonde, blue eyed man, the father, a shorter, blue eyed brunette, the mother, and a boy and girl who were almost Xerox copies of their parents.
They formed a private kraal with the two seats they occupied. The parents held the children in their laps as though they were going to escape1 or be captured.
The children, full of Sugar Pops and White bread Anglo upraising, squirmed uncontrollably, unaccustomed to being restricted by their parents. And while they squirmed, they released a stream of revealing commentary.
"Ooohh Mom! Look It's a river!”
"That's not really a river, Judy, that's kind of a large drainage ditch ... water...”
"You were right, Dad, there's a lot of niggers ‘n spics on the train."
The father pretended that he hadn't heard his son say what he had said, and at the same time slipped a garden calloused hand over the boy’s mouth.
"The niggers ‘n spics on the train," their racial remotes already tuned to the scene, exchanged sarcastic expression.
"Which ones are the niggers ‘n which ones are the spics?" Judy asked her manually silenced brother.
Her brother squirmed and tried to pull his father's hand from his mouth. He succeeded.
"Stop! stop it, Dad, I can't breathe!"
The parents had developed a fiery glow on both sides of their faces and at the back of their necks. They gave the impression of having been stricken by hot flashes.
“Uhhh, what time is it, Sally?" the father asked his wife, ignoring his own watch.
"Um, approximately, 4:12 .. .uhh...4:13.”
The children exchanged puzzled expressions. They were not sure of what to make of their parents behavior.
"Look, Judy, Bud! Look down there! You can see cars on the freeway.”
Their voices had a nervous, metallic edge, a bit too loud. The other people on the train, those who were within hearing range, paid close attention.
A young White woman who had been pretending to read a book was now pretending to take a nap.
"Mommy, which ones are the gangbangers?"
The sheer velocity of the children's questions ruled out the possibility of stifling them.
The reddish glow on the parents cheeks spread to their suddenly moist foreheads. How long is it going to take for us to get to the Metro transfer point, f' Godsakes!?"
"Yeh, Dad, where are the gangbangers?”
And now we're at the Imperial station where all of the baggiest pants, the most bizarre har styles and the creme de la creme of gansta rap, Hip Hop fashion piles on, complete with a style of talking that was once considered low, even in the low places.
The two teenaged brothers, one cue balled, the other braided, carried on a conversation that they had started on the station platform.
"So, hey, I tol' the bitch she could suck my motherfuckin' dick, you know what I mean?!”
"You shoulda kicked that bitch's ass!"
A middle aged African American woman, with a look of intense sadness, leaned her grey head against the window. My sons...
The White couple and their children stared at the mouths of the two young men talking, shocked speechless.
"I did kick her fuckin' ass! but that was last week – this was about suckin' my dick, you know what I mean?"
An older African American man, with hard lines in his face, and tobacco stains on his teeth, leaned across the aisle and spoke to the White couple in a firm baritone.
"These are not niggers, spics or gangbangers. These are our children."
The gray haired sister turned in the direction of his voice and nodded in agreement.
"Fuck you think she did?"
We Ain't All Mexican, Brothers...
The chocolate brown face was as flexible as a dramatist's pen, but it only reflected distress. The distress was caused by the sounds that rippled all around him.
He glanced at the profile of the beige skinned woman sitting beside him, who was talking to her girlfriend across the aisle, and frowned.
And the frown deepened as the conversations mostly in Spanish, bobbed and weaved around his ears. Clearly, this fifty year old African American man with the salt and pepper mustache and hair was annoyed.
He glanced with relief as the woman sitting beside him stood to exit the train. His glance of relief gave way to a smile of welcome as an African American man, perhaps ten years his junior, slid into the seat that the woman had vacated.
They nodded to each other as the brothers will do, when they are acknowledging each other's presence.
The rippling conversations in Spanish seemed to escalate at the Compton station. The older man began to do a solovoice grumble, tacitly assuming that the man sitting next to him was an ally, or at least neutral. The older man released his grousy commentary from the corner of his mouth, San Quentin prison style.
"That’s all I hear, day in ‘n day out, Spanoli, Spanoli, Spanoli, Spanoli ... It’s like this ain't even America no mo'. You don't even hear English, 'less you goin' to school or somethin'."
He paused to take a hard look at the profile of the man seated next to him, as though to measure the level of interest the man was showing. The man's mental expression was an incentive for him to continue his low level complaining.
"They takin' our jobs, O.K.? You hear what I'm saying, they takin' our jobs.”
The younger man, a darker version of the man who was complaining, turned to look at his seatmate. It was the spur that the older man needed.
"That's right, they takin' our jobs. Pretty soon, the whole place will be Mexican. What about that?"
The “question" was more an affirmation of the man’s question, than the quest for an answer.
"Well, my friend, I don' know about that."
"And them that ain't takin' our jobs is on welfare, bleedin' us, the American taxpayer to death....”
"I don' theenk ..."
“Too many babies, hell, just look around you, looks like most of these Mexican women is having three babies a year....”
The older man overpowered the younger man’s attempt to speak.
"Too many babies! You hear what I'm sayin'? Too many babies. Pretty soon the whole state ain't gon’ be nothin' but Mexicans."
“Look, my friend, I don' agree with what you are sayin'."
The complainer stared at his seatmate.
"Sounds like you got a lilt bit o' an accent yourself. Where you from?"
"Ha bana? Where's that?"
"Coo-ba," the man answered with a big smile.
The complainer turned to stare out at the cityscape flickering by and muttered, "Damn! You one of 'em too.”
"We ain't all Mexican, brother", the man replied in his slightly accented English.
The Gangbanger and the Fool, a Detour...
He stomped onto the train eating (curling his right forefinger into a can of crabmeat); that's a no no, punishable by a $250 fine. He was cussing some imaginary figure in his life. He may have been high from something or other, but maybe not; he was all of the negative stuff, that's what the vibes radiating from his hard shell told us.
We tightened our emotional seat belts, we were going to be forced to go a few stations with a Nasty One.
The Nasty One seems to be an "EL A" phenomenon, it may have something to do with the distances and the vibes that the neighborhoods cast off on the vehicles rolling through. It can get downright messy on the Western Avenue bus, going south or the Wilshire bus going east or west.
The Nasty One (infrequently two) is not as often experienced on the Blue Line, the Metro cops sift out most of the rough riders, but occasionally a Nasty will slip through.
Medium tall, brown skinned man, about thirtyish needing a shave and a bath. There was nothing about him that was intimidating, other than the grating sound of his voice.
Collectively, the few Whites reddened, stared harder at their newspapers/books, and gave every sign of praying that the police would pop onto the train at the next station. The Brown people ignored him, just another Negro loco. The Black people were trying to wish him away. The wish was like a stiff breeze blowing through the train.
No one wanted to tell him to shut up and sit down. No one cared enough about him to say anything to him, and it fed him jolts of insecurity.
"So, what did I say?! I said ‘fuck 'im.’ That what I said ‘fuck 'im.’”
A clever attention seeking fool. He turned his rhetoric down to a whisper as the train paused to admit new passengers and discharged old ones, doing a quick scan to determine if there were undercover cops on the scene.
Satisfied that he wasn’t being spied on, he revved himself back up as soon as the doors closed and the train eased on down the track.
"Yeah! Fuck 'im and fuck yo' momma too. Yeahhh, that's what I said!”
"Hey man, why don't you stop usin' all that bad language 'n shit around these women 'n children 'n shit 'n sit yo' ass down somewhere?"
The voice was coming from the seat in front of me. It was a silky voice but strong and definite.
The Nasty One paused in his parade through the aisle, blinking in surprise. We were all surprised. The surprise stemmed from the source of the voice.
A young brother, his pants as low on his butt as they could possibly be without dropping to his knees, was the speaker.
“What?! What?! You talkin' to me young niggah?!”
The young man, muffled in his Mount Everest gansta rap jacket, twisted his eyes to make a peripheral glare. Seated behind him, I took note of the malevolence of his wall eyed threat.
He didn't move his head as he answered, "Yeah, I'm talkin' to you. I said ... why don't you sit yo' ass down somewhere?"
Two young Black women, red nailed and stylishly coiffed, their waistlines and belly buttons fashionably bared, stared at the young man with the silky voice.
The Nasty One immediately sat on the first seat he could find, the elderly handicapped seat beside the door blustering in a softer tone!
"Who the fuck you think you are?! How you gon' tell me what to do?”
The young man rose half way from his seat and made a waist band adjustment. It was impossible, from my angle to see what he was adjusting.
"I just said you oughta stop usin' all that foul language ‘n shit! That's want I said. You wanna make something outta that?!”
Incredibly, a clean field between the two people opened like something had cleaved it. It was “Git down time" and the Nasty One instantly reverted to being the Fool, the Clown who didn't really mean anybody harm.
"Awwww, hold on now, young brother ... looks like you wanna take this seriously. I mean, c’mon now, ain't no sense in takin' this too seriously. You know what I mean?
"Now I know you a gangbanger ‘n all that but you don't have to take it out on me....”
The Fool (formerly a Nasty One) pushed his voice into the begging zone by elevating his tones to a higher level. The fear that drove him to cop a plea was almost comical, it showed in his rapidly blinking eyes.
"All I'm saying to you is this, shut the fuck up!"
"Hey, you got it, my brother ... whatever you say."
The train slid into the Florence station without another word being spoken, by anyone.
It's a sociological term, "familiar strangers," and maybe a concept too.
Lots of familiar strangers ride the Blue Line every day. We see each other but we don't know each other.
The El Salvadorians see the Mexicans, the Mexicans see the Koreans, the African-Americans see the Hondurans, the Whites see the Panamanians, but no one really knows anything about anybody else, unless they've taken the time to make the extraordinary effort to find out who the familiar strangers are.
It was a gentlemanly thing to do when the books and papers slipped out of her hands and splashed at his feet, he bent down to gather up the spill.
"Oh, thank you."
He made a neat package of the papers and handed it to her. The other passengers took not of his chivalry and smiled with approval.
The young woman held the notebooks and papers in her lap, leaned her head against the window of the train and nodded off again. The young man seated next to her surreptitiously studied her profile.
This is a fine sister here.
Her full lips and long eyelashes held his attention longest, and the voluptuous, but shapely figure inside the nurse's white coat and pants.
The books and papers slid from her lap again. Again, the gentleman bent: to pick them up.
"0 thank you, I’m sorry...."
"Ain't no problem, no problem at all....”
He made an orderly job of it, pausing to make certain that he was placing things in the order she had dropped them in.
“That’s O.K.," he answered and directed his attention to the passing scenes. Yeahh, this is a really fine sister here. What is she, a Mexican?
Two stations later she stood to exit, offering her tight white smile.
“'Scuse me, this is my place.”
"This is where you get off, huh?"
"Awright, take it easy now and hold on tight to your books ‘n stuff.”
The sound of her clean belled laughter fluttered back to him as she made her exit.
He waved to her as she walked past his window, she waved back, and made a little drama of clutching her books to her breasts.
Herb slumped down into the worn interior of his mother's easy chair, indulgently remoting from one channel to another.
“Stupid ass people putting all of their business in the streets. Wonder how much they get paid for spilling their guts like this?"
“He knew I was a transsexual."
“How did he know?"
"'Cause T told him!"
"Well, how did it go today?"
Herb popped out of his slump.
"Oh, hi, moms, you caught me checkin' the freakies out again.”
"Yeah, you have to be careful of that stuff, it can become addicting. Put Oprah on. Well, how did it go?"
Herb remoted Oprah Winfrey on and clicked the volume way down.
"Not good, not bad. I went to a few places, filled out applications 'n stuff. This one place looks promising, I had a chance to talk with the manager and he didn't seem to be too upset about me havin' a record.
“You're a young man, he said, a young man will make mistakes. I was a young man once myself.
"That's what he said. It don't mean that he's gonna hire me but he sounded sympathetic anyway.”
"Well, that's better than nothin'. You eat yet?"
"Nawww, I was waitin' for you to come."
She patted him on the cheek and strolled to the kitchen.
"Turn Oprah up a bit while I'm in here. I'll fix us a couple of sandwiches."
Herb remoted the sound of Oprah Winfrey's show up and settled back, his mind miles away from the scene in front of him.
That sure was a fine young lady on the train today, a fine young lady.
He gazed around the room. Mom's really likes to keep things neat.
“Herb, you want lemonade or milk?”
“Lemonade or milk? She must still think I'm ten years old. Forty ounces would be more my style.
“Uhhh, lemonade is O.K., Moms."
He took a hard look at his mother as she re entered the room with a tray of sandwiches and two tall glasses of lemonade. She placed the tray on a cocktail table and sat on the sofa near her son.
She must've been a beautiful sister in her day, she's still a beautiful sister.
"Listen to me close. I'm not gon’ repeat myself.”
He remoted the sound down without taking his eyes from his mother's face.
"It's hard out there for a young Black man. We all know that. You just got out of jail which is gonna make things a little bit harder, but I don't want you to give up on yourself. O.K.?"
"O.K. Moms ... with you in my corner I know everything is gon' be awright.
“Good, now turn it up a little and let's hear what Oprah is talking about today."
They both reacted with pleased expressions to see each other on the Blue Line again.
"Hey, how you doing?! You still stuff all over the place?"
The bell toned laughter unsettled he was so close to it.
"Ohhh noooo, I’m O.K. now. It's just that I was sooo sleepy that day. I had been studying for my exams and you know, with this other job, I was ... how you say .. exhaustedly."
It was his turn to laugh. Exhaustedly. she means "exhausted." A cute lil' accent...
"So what's up? I mean, you know what do you do?"
Five minutes later, he felt "exhaustedly" from listening to her describe her six day grind of student nurse's aid studies part time waitress regime.
“Wowww! You be doin' a lotta stuff, huh?"
She nodded her head in agreement. This guy really understands what I'm going through.
They continued chatting, with long pause lines in between spurts of conversation.
"So, you say you from Nicaragua? That's near Brazil, right?"
"0 no, eets en Central America.”
"Now I gotcha, its between North America and South America."
"Well, almost like that, eets below Mexico.”
Herb felt at ease talking to this young woman from Nicaragua. She's about taking care of business, I like that.
She nodded with her chin to the exit as the train slowed to her stop.
"This is my place.”
"When will I see you again?,” he asked impulsively. She look stunned for a moment and then lowered her eyelashes as she answered.
"I am riding the Blue Line about this time almost every day.”
"Well, I'll see you then....”
She raised her eyelashes and gave him a curious look but she didn't say anything. Herb felt a moment of desperation as the train come to a stop.
"Uhh, what's your name?"
“Blanca, Blanca Cruz Somoza."
"I'm Herb Finley.”
She barely touched his outstretched hand and fled to the exit. Passing his window on the station platform, she responded to his off eye wink with a shy sprinkling of her fingers.
About this time... uhh huh.
Herb spent the rest of the week going from one job interview to another.
"Now then, Mr. Finley, you state here on your application
that you are on parole?"
"I'm on parole, yes, but I didn't commit any crime, I was framed!”
"Oh, I see....”
About this time almost every day....
He raced from his last job interview to take the train he thought she would be on. He rode from one station to another, got off the train, rode back the other way for three station stops and repeated his actions.
About this time almost every day, huh?
“Herb, you got a call from this computer training center, man named Steiner, wants you Lo call him back."
"Heyyy, that’s the one I told you about, remember, who said young men make mistakes...."
"I got my fingers crossed and I'm goin' to say a prayer or two for you.”
"Thanks, Moms, I need all the help I can get."
Two weeks later Herb Finley was a member of Class Two Thousand, a test group of young people of several ethnic backgrounds who had been chosen to participate in a pilot work study program.
"Mom, it's the Bomb! You hear me, it's the Bomb!"
"I knew you could do it, Herby, I knew you could do it!"
He saw the reflection of her face in the train window as she sat beside him, loaded with notebooks and folders.
"Hey, Blancha ..."
"No, eets Blanca".
"That's what I mean, how you been? I thought I had missed you."
"I've seen you two, three times but you were that and I was here and the train was going, you know."
"So, how you been? I just got a gig in a program. Things is looking good for me. Real good ..."
She looked at him with real interest for the first time.
Nice guy, he's so enthusiastic about life.
"Blancha. 0 sorry, Blanca, I'm just runnin' off at the mouth. I haven't given you a chance to say nothin'.... That Mexican couple there, why are they giving us the stink eye?"
"I have nothing to say....”
They look out of the window at the familiar scenery for a few beats, before Herb could jack up the courage to speak again. He spoke in a low voice, almost as though he were doing a monologue.
"Look, I know I'm a stranger and all that, but I'm a nice guy, I got friends who'll testify to that.
“I'm not the kind of dude who chases after girls all the time and stuff like that. As a matter of fact, I don’t even have a girlfriend.
"I don't know what your situation is 'cause I didn’t want to got into your business ‘n stuff...."
Blanca nodded quietly, to indicate that she too was unattached.
"Actually, all I'm saying is that it would be nice to have a real conversation with you, you know when we’re not on the train. Maybe we could... uhh ... stop off and get a hamburger and a coke or something....”
She took careful note of the small beads of sweat that ringed Herb’s forehead, and clinically recorded the phenomenon as a result of nervous agitation. Her station was next.
"Yes, maybe we could have a conversation
This is America and I’m twenty three years old. I shouldn't have to have Mama and Papa approve of every action I make. What did they say when Roberto came home with the Jewish girl? Nada. They looked at each other, but no one said anything.
The train was sliding to a stop.
"Well, uhh, when? I mean, you got a number? I can call you."
She stood at the edge of the seat, lurching a bit as the train ground to a stop.
"I'm riding the Blue Line about this time almost every day."
The big smile she gave him destroyed his developing protests.
"I'm looking forward to seeing you, O.K.?'
"Yes, I also," she answered boldly, surprising both of them.
Herb was tempted to escort her to the exit, but held himself in check. That wouldn't be cool. No that wouldn't be cool at all.
On the platform she turned to pantomime -- see you -- and blew a very shy kiss to him from the tips of her fingers.
Herb stared at the gesture, his lower jaw open with delight and surprise. “Wowww!”
He made careful note of the time frame and the station. I'm gon’ really surprise her tomorrow. Think I better hit the geography book tonight and find out where Nicaragua is.
Donna took the last sip of her espresso, glanced at the mounted on the obelisk in front of the Long Beach City tossed her empty cup into the trash bin on the station platform and stepped into the Los Angeles bound Blue Line train.
It took her a moment to decide where to sit. She made several considerations: It's two o'clock, the sun won't be too hot if I sit on the west side of the train and it won't get crowded until we get to Compton.
She stayed out of the train window, thinking with Katie.
“0, you didn't drive? I'll take you home.”
"No problem, the Blue Line is cool, it gives me a chance to mingle with the people.”
"I guess that’s the social activist in you. I try to avoid ‘the people’ as much as I can, especially these days."
"They're dangerous, haven't you heard?"
She smiled, thinking back to her "Let's do lunch Thursday” – with her sorority sister, Kate Adams Johnson.
“I’ve thought about asking Frank to change his name a half dozen times. What could sound more common than Adams Johnson?”
Kate was always fun to share a few hours with, take in a show, have lunch at one of the upscale places on 3rd and Pine, drink a couple glasses of wine, discuss their lives.
"So how does it feel to be past the change?"
"You tell me, sister you went first.”
They could joke with each other like sisters, share memories from their college days and beyond.
"Donna, if anyone had ever tried to force me to believe that you and Fred would ever divorce...”
"I know, it seems unreal to me too, but you know how it is with a lot of men when they start feeling old. They'll do anything to fight off the inevitable. I think, for most of them, that they see a younger woman as a testimonial of their youth or something.”
"Well, I'm not having any of that out of Mr. Johnson, I've served firm notice."
She closed her eyes and tilted her face slightly to catch the sun.
Girlfriends. There used to be six of us, now there's only two of us, a little older, a little wiser, a little heavier. She and Kate took pride in being "fifty some years old" with firm waistlines and no double chins.
"I think it's stupid to be running around with your thighs rubbing together, don't you?"
Donna Hightower opened her eyes as the train lurched into motion and looked at her reflection in the window. You're right, Kate, you're right.
Riding the Blue Line was a bit like sight seeing for her.
She never felt bored by the trip from Long Beach to Slauson, always something to see, a story to watch.
"Donna, you ought to be a writer, you know that. You see stories everywhere you go." That's what her ex husband used to tell her.
She studied the faces and postures of the people who got on and off the train. God, some of the ugliest people are making some of the most beautiful babies. Beautiful babies.
Uncouth teenagers who talk as though their mouths were sewers and prop their feet in the seats.
Well, how can you blame them for the way they act, no home training. My parents would have killed me would allow me to behave like that.
Hmmmmm ... not as many crazies as they have on the busses.
It goes to show you what can be done by adding a few policemen making some serious rules.
Her heart swelled into her throat when the man stepped into the train. He strolled up the aisle and sat in a seat on the opposite side of the aisle, diagonally from hers.
She made an oblique study of his profile, feeling a quick rush of heat dampen her temples. Am I having hot flashed, or is it him?
Jim Brown, the man who "made the earth move" for her, twenty five short years ago.
He looks good, just about the way I would expect him to look today. She took careful note of the trim waistline.
“Don't you just hate these middle aged men who look like they're pregnant?!”
“Now be nicer Kate, we have a lot of women running around here, looking like they're pregnant too."
"Yeahhh, but they have a right to look that way they have been pregnant.”
The firm chin, that gray at the temples, the serious expression I always loved. Did I love him."
The man in the seat next to her stood up to exit. Donna leaned across the aisle to tap Jim Brown on the shoulder, panicking for a moment at the idea that she might be mistaken.
There's a vacancy here, mister," she said with a seductive smile. She took the turn he made toward her, and the joy of his expression in slow motion.
"Donna!! Donna!! I don't believe this!"
The people who turned to stare at the returned to reading their books, newspapers and staring out of the window when they realized that they were not witnessing a fight.
He held her at arm's length after a long, fervent hug and an ardent kiss that landed dangerously close to her mouth.
"This is unbelievable! I was just thinking about you yesterday, as a matter of fact.”
"And what, pray tell? were you thinking?"
He squeezed her hand "same ol' Donna, right on the point. You haven't changed at all.”
"Are you serious?" Are you saying you don't think I've changed since you left me to go do your thing in Washington, D.C.?"
"I didn’t leave you, Donna. I hate to hear you put it like that.”
"How would you put it?"
The euphoric bounce of their meeting again on the Blue Line in Los Angeles after twenty five years, suddenly did a spiral. She could feel it.
"I think it was a matter of misplaced priorities, now that I look back at it. I thought the position I was going to take in Washington, D.C. was going to be more important then....”
"More important than me?"
The train slid to a stop, disgorged passengers and sucked other in before he answered!
"Yes, to be honest about it. But you have to remember that you had told me a half dozen times that you weren't ready for a full fledged commitment. Remember?"
The train was a little more crowded, a few more stroller clogged the entrance/exit. Three more stations.
"And so, you got married too."
"I needed someone."
He said the words with so much feeling she wanted to put her arms around him and tell him... yes, I understand.
"And you got married too."
She nodded yes.
"And I've been divorced for five years now. And you?"
"She died two years ago, lung Cancer. She just couldn't stop puffing.
The train seemed to be flying through space for a few moments. They were engulfed by silence, despite the fact that they were surrounded by people making all kinds of noises.
"Sorry to hear about that ... her. I really am. Well, this is my stop coming up.”
He stood to exit with her, brushing past the people boarding the train.
"You transferring here too?”
"No, I'm getting off to talk to you.”
They stood on the high platform at Slauson, staring into each other's faces as though they had experienced a miracle.
"You know I never expected to see you again. Am I making you late for something?"
"No, well, I've got an appointment downtown and I'll be late, but it doesn't matter, they can't do it 'til I get there.”
They exchanged understanding smiles. Still in control, huh>
"Can I call you? Maybe we could have dinner together? Maybe this evening?"
She broadened her smile. Same ol' Jim, always ready for action.
"Are you sure you want to see me again? Remember, I'm the same ol' Donna, I haven't changed....”
"I hope so".
He opened his arms to embrace her as the horn sounded, announcing that his train had arrived.
Siren on the Metro (Transfer)...
Even on a crowded bus in would've been very hard to ignore Darrilyn. It had something to do with the warm aura that seemed to halo her graceful movements.
She was not tall but she seemed to be. She was not classically beautiful by anybody's standard, but she was gorgeously seductive. Her appeal was inter denominational, international, wholistic.
The Asians saw her as an Asian, the African Americans saw her as Black, the Latinos saw her as one of them and the Whites took her at face value. Her basic appeal was to men, but there were also a number of women who found themselves orbiting in her atmosphere.
Darrilyn rode the Wilshire Blvd. bus, east and west, at least twice a day, a complete boomerang.
Perhaps she was going somewhere or maybe she wasn't. She was definitely leaving a string of illusioned men (and women) in her wake.
She had an artless technique that was constructed by having eye to eye contact with the one she had chosen. But she could also carry off the same business with a swanish turn of her head, or by channeling charged emotions into the languid movement of a flexible wrist or into a heaven blessed smile.
She carried business cards that identified her as a professional astrologer -- “See the stars with Darrilyn." And from time to time she placed one of her cards in the hands of a prospective "client." A number of men were pleasantly surprised by her card, a few were honestly bewildered, but no one was ever known to refuse to accept her offering.
This was taking place within the Los Angeles bus system. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a gulag that closely resembled all of tbe other large city bus-gulag-systems, reflecting the fast forward insanity of large city living on wheels.
Cliques of criminally insane people ride the bus, grinding their mad teeth, slobbering, arguing with invisible foes, threatening to blow themselves up and everything around them, dynamite heads.
Molesters of all types; child, animal, plant, environment.
Crazy people with no criminal intentions whatsoever, bring their lice spliced blankets, their unwashed bodies and their ragged, greasy slimy clothes on board.
They also talk to invisible beings. Men step on dressed as women, women as men, in between types cross dress.
People sit in configured seats, nursing grudges from past centuries. People sit next to each other, weeping from internal pains that have become exquisite.
Old people think thoughts of times and places that are as distant and foreign as the moon. Young people speak and act in ways that are so incomprehensible to the old people that they blot them out of their conscious minds.
Foreigners, all are foreigners, speak about life on the bus, on Earth in America, as though it were unlike anything they've ever known. They can't believe that so many bad spirited people could be in one place at the same time.
No doubt about it, the bus functions as a space ship on ground, filled with spaced out Earthlings, Darrilyn is just one of them.
"Uhhh, excuse me please, is this seat taken?"
The tall Mexican man with the Pedro Armendanz eyes and mustache, who gave every sign to indicate that he thought of himself as a "ladies man," stared at the voluptuous creature leaning toward him.
The bus is half empty and she wants to sit next to me,this beautiful woman. I am truly blessed today.
He managed to perform a gracious media Veronica whileseated. Darrilyn slid into the vacant seat, trailing diaphanous scarves and Chanel No. 5.
The bus, staggering from stop to stop, had become a sports car, flitting from block to block. The man felt heat rush from the follicles in his scalp down to the bottle neck in his bikini briefs. “Ahhhh, this one, what can I say to her?"
"I must introduce myself, I am Juan Carlos Fuerte."
"And I am Darrilyn."
She placed her hand in his and caressed it with a shake. Juan Carlos Fuerte burned a hole in her face with his eyes. This is the woman of my dreams.
She looks Spanish, not Mexican, Spanish. Or maybe Argentine. Does she speak Spanish?
"Do you speak Spanish?"
"Only enough to get me in trouble.”
Their faces glowed with smiles for each other. The man was certain that he had fallen in love with the woman. And vice versa. It was there for all to see.
"Then, we will have to say what has to be said in Ingles," he said in a passion driven, husky whisper.
"Yes, I suppose so", she replied, lowering her voice to match his. And folded her hands between her things as though she were in church. The graceful folding of her hands and the placement almost caused Juan Carlos Fuerte to speak Spanish.
“You know you are a very beautiful woman."
He felt her melt into the seat beside him, his words had done it. He felt the urge to use many, many words, to overwhelm this gorgeous creature with words and then jump off of the bus, transfer and go to this nice little room his friend had in East Los Angeles.
"Everything about you excites me, your perfume, your clothes, the way you are, everything....”
"Juan, you say the most beautiful things to me, I've never heard anyone talk like this before.
He stroked his mustache and gently reached between her thighs to grasp both of her hands in his hands.
"Maybe you have never heard these things before because we have never met before. Darrrilina...”
"Darrilyn, my name is Darrilyn."
"Ah, yes, Darrilyn, the woman who has come to me out of a dream...."
He slipped his arm to the cusp of her shoulders and immediately withdrew it. I mustn't let one of Maria’s nosy friends catch me. Darrilyn gave him an oblique, coy look.
"Darrilyn, listen, I have a wonderful idea."
She seemed so eager to share his feelings, so reasonable, so honest, so ... sexy.
"Why don't we go somewhere together, me, you, just the two of us?"
She answered him with the same sense of urgency in her voice.
"Where? Where would you like to go with me, Juan?”
She's a woman, she's not a girl. She doesn't act like a girl, but she doesn't really make me feel like she's a loose thing either. I'll take a chance, I'll speak my mind.
"Uhhh, I was thinking we could go to this place, it's like a friend's house, you know? It's not too far from here.”
There were no other passengers on the bus now. They had all been bubbled out, forgotten, dismissed.
The speeding sports car had jetted to a halt, waiting for the green light words to speed it off again. Darrilyn gently pulled her hands out of Juan's smoky clutches.
"Juan, as much as I would like to, I can't go with you....”
He held himself in check for a full beat, listening for “because." It never came. She simply stopped at "I can't go with you....”
"May I ask why?” he asked, and wedged himself closer to her. She turned toward him with a bright, feverish look in her eyes.
"I'm a professional astrologer.
Juan cocked his head to one side, deeply interested in whatever this fascinating woman had to say. But what did astrology have to do with what he was suggesting? "A professional astrologer, huh?"
Fifteen minutes later he felt that he had some idea what a professional astrologer was, and what they were responsible for doing.
"So you see, that's why I can't go with you. Here is my card. Please call me, I may have some important information for you."
Darrilyn stood quickly. Sprinkled a little wave goodbye and popped out of the exit doors like an exploding Jack in the Box.
Juan Carlos Fuerte, frustrated Lothario, stared at the plain white card. The name Darrilyn was printed in bold black face, her title "professional astrologer" and a telephone number.
He looked out of the window to catch a last glimpse of the enchanting creature he had just met, but she was no where to be seen.
The man could have been any one of the thousands of grey headed, grey bearded, middle aged African American men who were forced to take the bus to wherever they were going that morning.
It was more than obvious, from the subconsciously developed frown on his nutbrown face that he was pissed off: he was pissed at his prostate, the amount of sleep he was losing every night being forced to piss. He was pissed with his colon, and the need to have it examined once a year.
He was pissed at the idea of needing glasses to read the small print, at the heartburn he suffered from, at the stiffness in his joints and the consortium of pills he had to take for regular ailments. But above all, he was pissed because he couldn't flirt with young women any more.
They seemed to be amused, rather than attracted, to his eye winks, his macho posturing and his baritone inquiries. And when the young ladies that he had an eye for we-re not amused they seemed to be terrified. He had come to the conclusion that most of the women who rode the bus, under thirty had probably been molested by an older man.
He was pissed off about that, about the lousy vibe these other dirty old men had released in generations of nubile females.
He had some of these things on his mind, including concerns about his bills, when Darrilyn winked at him from across the aisle.
Maybe there's something in her eye. No, that's not it, she's winking at me. Myron Smith took a deep breath and turned to see if he could catch the reflection in the bus window of the young woman who looked at him.
Yes, he could see her in the mirror-window. He studied the reflection for a few beats. Fine young woman. One of those multicolored women, and she's definitely checking me out.
The large woman sharing Darrilyn's
Myron hesitated for a beat or two before he slid into the empty seat beside Darrilyn.
They exchanged warm, opaque smiles. Darrilyn turned to stare out of the window, Myron Smith stared at her profile.
So nice when you have people who don't act like they're scared to death of other people.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" he asked, allowing the words to flow like baritoned honey. He liked the sound of his voice and knew how to use it.
“Ohhh, it's just gorgeous!"
He was pleasantly stunned by Darrilyn's ebullience.
"Uhhh, yeahhh, you're right, it really is."
They both stared out of the window as though they were looking at a picture, glittering in the smog of mid day Los Angeles. Myron felt the blood rush to his head. He couldn't tell if it was from the excitement of chatting with an attractive young woman or if his high blood pressure was acting up.
Damn, did I take my pills?
He fumbled into the pocket of his cotton windbreaker for his high blood pressure pills, unscrewed the top and dry swallowed a pill.
"You O.K.?," she asked, taking note of his actions.
"Awwww, I’m O.K., just some ol' pills I have to take every now and then.”
Her smile was so warm, so concerned, so sweet.
"Isn't that wonderful that all we have to do is take a pill every now and then to stay well? 0, incidentally, I'm Darrilyn."
He was pleased with the firm grip of her handshake. He hated to shake hands with women, especially the ones who touched hands as though they were handling five day old fish.
"And I'm Myron smith. So, where you going on this gorgeous day?"
"Where? O, just anywhere. I just want to drift! To go with the flow!"
“Why don’t you have a cup of coff..., uhh, espresso with me?”
"I'd love to."
Myron felt like hugging Darrilyn, but resisted the urge.
She'll think I'm just another dirty ol' man. And the V.A. appointment? What the hell, I'll reschedule. Ain't nothing for me to do but stay Black ‘n die, may as well have a lil' fun in my life before I go out.
The Gourmet Coffee House was a place that he would never have gone to by himself.
A student hang out, south of the University, filled with students pontificating, staring at their lap tops, acting romantic, being young.
"How did you know about this place?"
"0, I come here all the time."
He swallowed hard, checking out the coffee prices. Damn! What the hell do they put in this stuff anyway? 0 well, there goes my beer money for this month.
"Myron, you know we can go Dutch on this."
"Darrilyn, I invited you for coffee. This is my treat, now. Order what you like."
He thought he detected snide looks peeking out at them from behind a couple of the bearded faces. Probably think I'm a sugar daddy, huh?
He smiled at the idea. What kind of sugar could this daddy come up with, on a fixed income?
They ordered, espresso double for him, café late for her, and began to talk as though they were old friends who happened to run into each other on the bus.
Myron Smith stared at Darrilyn as she spoke, focusing on the ideas that she spilled out to him.
"I'm a professional astrologer."
"Oh, you spend a lot of time star gazing, huh?"
“No, that's an astronomer. I'm an astrologer."
"0, I see said the blind man...” He loved the expression that brightened her face as she quickly realized what he had said.
"That's pretty witty, Mr. Smith, preeety witty."
"Please, call me Myron.”
She squeezed his forearm with real affection boosting his ego yea high. He couldn't think of anything else to say to her. What words could he use to tell her that he loved her? That he had felt love for her the moment he saw her? How to say...?
"Please, Myron, don't say anything.”
He was startled by her intuitive reading. Yes, this is that special one I've been looking for, since Mabel’s death.
Darrilyn stood, and indicated with gestures that she was off to the ladies room. He nodded pleasantly and watched her stride away from their table.
Mmmmmmm ... that's a tine woman there, a real fine woman.
He sipped his espresso and smiled to himself ... you ol' rogue, you. Here you are, three years older ‘n black pepper and got the nerve to be seducing pretty young things off the bus. What's gonna become of you?
He crossed his legs at the knee and began to try to put together "a program." I'll invite her over for dinner tomorrow evening. Bet that would ring her bell. Ain't too many young men who know how to cook these days and most of the young women can't even boil water.
I wonder if she can cook? Well, we don't have to worry about that. I can cook.
A blurred succession of image/thoughts slipped through his mind; Darrilyn and Myron at the movies, taking a long walk on a moon blanched beach, sharing laughs, making love. He glanced around him, checking people out, as though someone might have read his thoughts.
Making love. He uncrossed his knees and sprawled back in his seat. Making love. I haven't made love to a woman in two years, since Mabel died. Making love. Well, I really can’t count Ernestine. She was just doing what she thought old friends should do. Helping me to get past my grief, I guess you could say.
He did a surreptitious tummy tuck with his left hand. She doesn't seem to mind this age thing. Some women are like that, they're able to see past the superficial stuff. What's age got to do with emotional involvement anyway?
"Are you Smith?"
"Are you named Smith?"
He felt a bit awkward about being caught daydreaming by their waitress. She'll probably think I'm senile or something.
"Yeah, yeah, I’m Smith.”
The waitress handed him a small square sheet of paper, folded neatly in half, and strolled off to attend another table.
"Dear Myron, it's been truly wonderful, but I had to continue with the flow. Please call me sometime. Universely yours, Darrilyn."
He turned the piece of paper over frantically, looking for a telephone number. She hadn't written one. Myron Smith settled back in his seat and stared at the people rushing past the picture window of the Gourmet Coffee House, trying to center his shattered feelings. A few moments later, after putting it all into a perspective that he felt comfortable with, he signaled to the waitress for the check.
"The bill has already been paid, sir."
He stood and shook the kink out of his left leg, a big smile on his face, and slowly walked out of the coffee house.
Well, what the hell, you win some, you lose some. Better to have a few of these kinds of times than not have any at all. Maybe I'll run into her again.
Tune in next week for the second installment of Black and Brown on the Blue Line